Elliman Insider is honored to sit down with the incredibly successful John Gomes, founding member of the Eklund | Gomes team. We asked him to speak about what Black History Month means to him, the obstacles he’s overcome in the real estate industry as a biracial agent and reflect on what he what believes we all can do to better understand one another to affect lasting change.
Elliman Insider: How did you get your start in real estate?
John Gomes: I was a maître d’ working at Balthazar in Soho. Michael Shvo, the number one broker in real estate at the time, was a client of mine. One day he saw me kissing goodbye to Eva Mendes and he pulled me aside afterwards and asked me how I knew her. When I told him she was a regular and that I had developed a relationship with her over time just like many of the other celebrity clientele, I could see a lightbulb go on in his head. After months of trying to convince me to join his team I finally gave in. I never looked back.
EI: We are celebrating Black History Month. What do you look forward to most this month?
JG: What I look forward to most about this month is the year that I won’t have to look forward to it any longer because we’ve made enough progress.
EI: Historically, the real estate industry has not been a good partner to Black Americans and other minority groups. In your opinion, how can we do better around issues of fair housing and racial injustice in general?
JG: For starters we can learn the history of black people in America. It’s very important to go all the way back to appreciate how we got to where we are today. Fair housing laws are one thing and enforcing those laws is another. As a community, we must do a better job at enforcing those laws. As real estate brokers we are the gatekeepers of those laws. We must all see that as a responsibility.
“Fair housing laws are one thing and enforcing those laws is another. As a community, we must do a better job at enforcing those laws.”
We must also encourage more black people to enter our industry and create opportunities for them to do so. This is vital if we want other young people to see people like them in an industry like ours and imagine they can join us one day too. This is how we will make progress and we have a lot of catching up to do.
EI: Have you encountered racism in your day-to-day business life?
JG: I am a biracial man. I have a black father and a white mother. I have encountered racism in my life since the day I was born—I still do. I have experienced racism in our industry several times. More than once I have been given the cold shoulder, or I have been dismissed by the seller on a listing pitch. Not because I wasn’t capable, rather I wasn’t white enough. There’s a feeling one gets as a minority.
“More than once I have been given the cold shoulder, or I have been dismissed…not because I wasn’t capable, rather I wasn’t white enough.”
It’s an instinct that you sense when someone isn’t comfortable with you because of the color of your skin. It’s not necessarily what they say, rather how they treat you. It’s often dismissive. It’s always worse when the door opens and I smile at them and say hello only to be greeted with a look of surprise and in more than one case, the look of fear. I’ve often felt as though I have to work harder to gain the sellers’ confidence in my abilities just because of the color of my skin.
EI: How do you overcome it?
JG: I am smart. I am confident. I am proud. I was raised to never give up. I never will. This is how I overcome it.
When I was entering high school my family moved into a new, almost exclusively white town. They moved there so I could have better educational opportunities. I’ll never forget all the lunches I ate alone while having Oreo cookies thrown at me from every direction. The kids thought it was funny that I was biracial. I can still feel the crumbs in my hair, which is pretty amazing since I have been bald for many years now. Looking back on it I guess I should thank those kids for lighting a fire inside of me. The experience made me tougher.
“I am smart. I am confident. I am proud. I was raised to never give up. I never will. This is how I overcome it.”
I felt as though I had something to prove. Fast forward many years later to my business school graduation ceremony. I was graduating cum laude and president of my class. There I stood on stage in front of a group of thousands at Madison Square Garden. As the spotlight shone down upon me I made reference to the Oreo cookie story and reflected on just how far I had come in the face of all that adversity. I’ll never forget the load, thunderous applause that led to a standing ovation. I took it all in and in that moment I realized I had a responsibility to tell my story so that others didn’t have to live it firsthand. I haven’t stopped sharing that story. I never will.
EI: What would you say to a young person of color considering a career in real estate?
JG: Go for it! Know your stuff. Dress the part. Be confident and smile big. Let your light shine so bright from within that it commands people’s attention and makes them want to bask in it.
“Go for it! Know your stuff. Dress the part. Be confident and smile big.”
Get the job. Do the job. Take that success and move on to the next. Don’t stop until you need a rest.
EI: What will you and your son and daughter be doing to honor this important month?
JG: Thankfully, we will continue to follow what Madame Vice President Kamala Harris is doing. I love teaching them her story. They love to read and they have many books on the lives of people like Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Ella Fitzgerald, Martin Luther King and other trailblazers in black history. We read them often; however, there is something about reading them in the month of February that puts an extra smile on my face.