How do you get inner-city kids off the streets? Give them a vested interest in those streets and a stake in the property around them.
That is the philosophy behind a new program that teaches teens financial literacy through investments in real estate. Kids are taught how to value and finance local apartment buildings, and then given the opportunity to share in real profits from those properties.
"Everything we do is pragmatic. You buy a building and then they share in the upside," said Cedric Bobo, principal and co-founder of Project Destined.
Project Destined, barely two years old, is Bobo's baby. A former executive with the Carlyle group, the idea came to him after he saw a movie that centered on a child who was selling drugs on the street. The movie gave two possible outcomes, one where he was caught by police and ended up back selling drugs, and another where he got away and ultimately became an architect. Bobo was struck by the idea of real estate changing a child's destiny.
"Real estate is tangible, and having grown up in a household where you've seen your parents lose your home, real estate plays an ever-present part of your life," said Bobo, who has been called one of the most powerful black investors on Wall Street. "I also think it's easy to understand for kids, so my philosophy in life is I want you to be a part of your neighborhood's change, I don't want you just to be watching."
Bobo launched the project with just a dozen or so students in Detroit. Just afterwards, he happened to meet former baseball legend Alex Rodriguez at a Jennifer Lopez concert. Rodriguez now runs A-Rod Corp, a real estate investment and development firm. Rodriguez joined immediately and floated the idea to bring Project Destined to the Bronx.
"I was born right down the street in Washington Heights. I have always loved baseball and business. Real estate is a way out of the 'hood," Rodriguez said.
The Bronx program accepted about 50 teens from three different high schools as well as the City University of New York. They began taking classes through Project Destined, learning the lingo of real estate finance.