"If You Are Not Using Your Power for Equity, Influence and Sustainability You Will Be Forgotten!"
J Lynda Blake Recently thrust on the National stage as CFO/President of Russet Apple Group!
The Era of the Businesswoman (Originally published in Entrigue Magazine NYC 2021)
The American Association of Educated Women has stated that the most educated women in the USA are black women! Black women get 65% of Bachelor’s degrees, 72% of Master’s degrees and 66% of doctoral degrees. Statistically it takes women of color longer to get their degrees averaging 6 years for a 4 year degree, and most don’t attend Ivy league schools but for a demographic that is growing while all others are dwindling the 20% of the population they make up according to the latest black media census shows they are the fastest rising group of entrepreneurs in the country.
Yet unlike their Eurocentric counterparts they are unwilling to forego having children to do so. Lynda Blake a CEO of an expanding construction firm Mother and Grandmother epitomizes what the millennial era of the modern “American” businesswoman looks like.
J Lynda Blake has been successful in the construction industry for 25 years starting as a small painting company, then General Contractor whose business savvy has allowed her to rise to the level of a Prime builder/Developer and promising International Real Estate Developer. Ms. Blake is a library of knowledge when it comes to Construction and Real Estate. She also has a background in accounting and complete her Master’s in Business (Everglades University Class of 2022). Although it has been suggested she has avoided entering politics, for now. Lynda’s company, Narman Construction Inc. continues to grow and like the little engine that could, has faced its share of battles undaunted to stay in business for 20 years. Lynda even had to face down one of the largest Insurance companies in the country in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit when she discovered they had sent letters out to over 300 of her clients that she had completed repairs for after one of New England’s largest blizzards.
The Insurance Company willfully and with malice disparaged her Black Woman owned company, by sending letters stating they had no confidence in the repairs that “black” owned Narman Construction Inc. had completed and urged them to put in writing they were dissatisfied so that the clients could get the repairs for free, and the Insurance Company wouldn’t have to pay Narman Construction! The tactic failed to work, as most customers were extremely pleased at the timeliness and quality of the repairs and instead put that in writing. Lynda took the Insurance company to court where their team of expensive lawyers were forced to apologize. Lynda is not at liberty to mention the company name or her compensation, this was mutually agreed upon under the terms of the arbitration. What is apparent is that following this confrontation Narman Construction Inc. began advertising on multiple advertising platforms and supporting community events and development programs in the greater Boston Area.
Photo Inset J. Lynda Blake and MA. Governor Charlie Baker
I was honored to be present at Ms. Blake’s photo shoot for the cover of Entrigue Magazine by acclaimed world renown photographer Hakim Raquib. Mr. Raquib is a well-known Photographer, Artist, and African diasporic culture historian who has gained fame for his work with Ford modeling Agency, Northeastern Universities AAMARP (for celebrated African- American Master Artists), and his many art showings and celebrity photography from Miles Davis to Madonna. At the shoot Ms. Blake was the epitome of modern business chic in a fire engine red “Hepburn Dress” (from a local Avant Garde Newbury Street Designer).
As she surveyed the Boston Skyline that has come to be her second home one couldn’t help but sense the pride she had in her city. Originally from the Bronx NY she took the knowledge of self she gained from the strong black women that molded her… and educated herself to become a force to be reckoned with. She counts her Mother as one of her greatest influencers, a woman who raised not only her own, but while her father was away serving in the military took care of extended family members that needed a parental figure and a home.
Ms. Blake, her partner Hank Ebanks who currently is building a sports League and Baseball Field /Stadium in the Honduras for Youth co-funded by The Boston Red Sox and the Jose Martinez 21 Non Profit in Association with Black Coral Inc.org, and her team of skilled professionals has earned decades of awards in customer satisfaction, and excellence which she proudly displays in her office. Narman Construction Inc. has become well known for quality workmanship in New England. Yet it is unusual for a woman to be in this field, much less owning and operating her own construction firm. During the photo shoot this writer was afforded the opportunity to Interview Ms. Blake and gain some insight into what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur and CEO of a successful company.
Entrigue: How did you start out in the construction Industry?
J.L Blake: “Well… it began when I co-founded M.A. Blake Painting Company in 1997 with my then husband. At the time I was a work study student planning on becoming a Lawyer, as business Law and accounting were areas of study that I was always passionate about. We began investing in property and were becoming quite prosperous, so we decided to share our knowledge with in-laws by starting Woodland Cooperative Construction and Development Company. All I will say about that experience is that when extremely large amounts of money are being made, nothing matters except what is on paper. Sometimes integrity and honesty goes out the window and you find yourself surrounded by greedy and unscrupulous individuals.”
Entrigue Magazine: No doubt, but you were able to bounce back?
J.L. Blake: (In a serious tone) “Not at first…I was fortunate enough to work for a Boston folk Hero Mr. Ernest ”Gunny” Branch who took me under his wing when he started the Veteran’s Benefits Clearing House Development Corporation (VBCDC). He was a visionary who saw the need of veterans of color who often were forgotten when it came to services. We took veterans from “Homeless to Home Ownership” Working for Gunny was like getting a Harvard degree in business and non-profit social activism. I learned how political the simple act of getting the elderly, veterans, and their family’s homes could be. In the four years I was there we developed ninety ($90) million dollars, worth of office and community space!”
Entrigue Magazine: That’s Awesome!
J.L.Blake: That’s where I learned the true importance of the construction industry and community building as well as development. We need safe spaces, green spaces, places to live that uplift the spirit and give you self-esteem. The projects of the 60’s and 70’s encapsulated in shows like Good Times were debilitating to the souls of our community. They were built like prisons. They emotionally demoralized and institutionalized a generation to believe there was no escape.
Entrigue Magazine: Escape from what?
J.L. Blake: Poverty, low paying jobs, lack of employment, welfare, drug addiction, poor educational options, lack of access to medical care, child-care, the prison industrial slave system and lack of healthy food! We believed that the Federal Government was coming into our communities to help us when more often than not they really were there to make sure we stayed in those communities without an ability to economically empower ourselves and improve them. Because basically when we do,(improve them) the next step is a push toward gentrification so we (poor people and ethnic communities) can be herded into another low income area. In Boston when areas like Roxbury and Dorchester became predominantly black many unscrupulous landlords began burning their homes rather than make repairs for brown and black people to live comfortably. Now that we have home ownership the push is toward forced gentrification. It’s a pattern that we finally, have the ability to stop, going forward.
Entrigue Magazine: How do we stop this pattern, especially when we see such a disparity of wealth in this country, and many cities based on race?
J.L.Blake: It’s about understanding the economic realities and utilizing our ability to work together and unite economically, its all about two things, group economics and changing the paradigm of home ownership through new technologies.
Entrigue Magazine: Explain please?
J.L.Blake: Let’s look back a little, up until the late 70’s if you were black or brown you couldn’t get an FHA loan for a house even today many in our communities have no idea what HUD (Housing and Urban Development) means or how it works when it comes to accessing a home. Our elders who are lucky enough to own a home they raised there children in and spent years paying off a mortgage from are now faced with skyrocketing tax debt and higher energy bills forcing them to sell even when the purchase amount cannot buy them another home of the same quality. That’s what millennials complain about they don’t want to spend a lifetime paying for a home that can be taken away when some developer decides to build a Starbucks in the hood!
Entrigue Magazine: So how do you counter that?
J. L. Blake: Net Zero building practices, cooperative ownership and green retrofitting of old structures. In the past a politician could simply with the help of bankers, appraisers, mortgage company’s and corporate investors take a community that had formerly been redlined by those same entities as unworthy of investment and claim now it had magically become prime real estate, and so the taxes needed to be raised on homeowners that were most likely living on a fixed income or retirement. So it is clear that if we removed a bill or two that is twice the amount of the tax increase we alleviate the ability for the unscrupulous to strongarm these people out of their properties, and in fact help them keep a higher valuation of their home which would make them eligible for things like a business loan or a way to purchase land or a second property!
Net zero building is a way of building a new home with the intent that it would have little to no energy loss or costs utilizing materials and building practices that go beyond simple insulation such as solar water heater, floors that absorb heat in the daytime and release it at night, hemp walls that are energy conserving as well as mold and fire resistant. Home batteries and solar panels that can alleviate up to 90 percent of your energy charges annually as they discovered in Hawaii which caused a short moratorium on home solar for a year in that state as people went from a $500 dollar a month energy bills to $25 dollars a month! Now with the advent of products like solar shingles you can have a home that looks traditional but saves unconventionally to the empowerment of your bank account add an electric vehicle and you start each day as they say in Los Angeles “driving to work on sunshine!”
Entrigue Magazine: You also mentioned something about cooperatives and group economics?
J.L.Blake: Exactly! (laughs)… I’m not a big fan of Kanye West but one thing he did get right was urging Trump to talk with Dr. Claude Anderson, I’ve been a fan of his since reading Powernomics: The Plan to Empower Black America years ago. We have to do for self when purchasing individually, but that doesn’t mean being selfish we need to work together for common economic goals and first and foremost on anyone’s agenda should be home ownership. It’s the keystone to wealth building. That doesn’t mean go out and purchase a mansion in fact a first-time homeowner should be conservative its like Monopoly there’s always one person who thinks if they own Boardwalk the game is over, but somehow it takes hours for anyone to land on their property, meanwhile they are paying everyone else with hotels and railroads. What’s great about starting small is you can put the best of everything in your home from heated floors to central air and kitchen Islands with marble tabletops.
“The flip side is creating cooperatives with clear guidelines and responsibilities of each member clearly defined and outlined in a written agreement created by an attorney. This can allow a group of friends or neighbors to purchase a building or commercial space and build their wealth as a partnership. It also means each could have an affordable living space where there would be little or no change to the rent as long as they live there. The ownership could be passed on to relatives or even sold as long as it is compliant with the agreement signed by the invested parties. In Boston the city sold brownstone buildings located on Massachusetts Avenue in The Back Bay area for a dollar to anyone who agreed to repair them in 2 years.
The average cost of repair was between $250,000 to $300,000 dollars and this was in the 90’s! Many of these brownstones had more than 6 rental units with a current valuation upwards of ($5,000,000) five million dollars! This is what cooperative investment and purchasing power can do. Community wise we need to take control of our school boards if we change the schools to solar power like Roxbury Community College did in Boston, or every Walmart Store nationally. The money saved annually could go to hiring more teachers, buying schools computers and expanding multi media arts, music, and STEM programs we set our children up for success instead of sending our community dollars to the power company!”
Entrigue Magazine: What is your vision for the company as CEO of Narman Construction Inc?
JL. Blake: “Oh my goodness, to expand and make Narman Construction a multi-national construction firm, the short term goal is to take the opportunity to specialize as a contractor in the things I’ve just outlined and there are some opportunities that a residential/ commercial contractor like myself can partake in especially in the areas of commercial contracting beyond that I‘m not at liberty to divulge too much of what we are doing.”
Entrigue Magazine: What is the most important advice you can give other women who want to enter this field?
J.L. Blake: Stay focused and understand that you may fail a few times before you succeed, but don’t quit, be consistent and persistent.
Entrigue Magazine: What is it about the fields of Construction Management and Development that you love?
J.L. Blake: The challenge is what I love about it, especially because I am a woman faced with naysayers daily its validation just seeing a project go from inception to finish…we aren’t just building homes we are building opportunities… affording my community the opportunities for growth that they probably would never get elsewhere. As opportunities were afforded to me, I want to give opportunities to others as well. My primary goal is to find even more opportunities I can share with others.