Bo Menkiti ’95 Delivers the Year’s Wyner Lecture
On February 4, alumnus Obiora “Bo” Menkiti spoke to Roxbury Latin students and faculty about the experiences that have taken him from homeschool, to RL, to Harvard, to where he is now: the founder and CEO of both The Menkiti Group and Keller Williams Capital Properties (KWCP)—companies dedicated to transforming communities through real estate in urban markets.
“Thoreau said, ‘In the long run men hit only what they aim at,’” said Mr. Menkiti. “So the question becomes, what are you aiming at? For us that vision, early on, was a vision of an America where all communities are thriving, diverse, and economically vibrant places to live. In a country that’s increasingly separated, with increasing wealth disparity, and increasing issues around housing, affordable housing, and homelessness—this was a vision that drew us forward.”
Before working in real estate, Mr. Menkiti worked at College Summit, a non-profit that took him around the country to help high school students apply for college. He returned home from one of these trips to find that his neighbor and friend, an elderly woman next door, had died during the weeks he was away.
“I thought I was out there changing the broad world,” said Mr. Menkiti, “and I realized that I wasn’t present for the person right on the other side of the row house wall from me, where I slept every night. And it got me thinking, ‘What could I do to make a difference right here, where I am right now, in my neighborhood?’ And that’s the genesis of this company I have the opportunity to run today.”
Mr. Menkiti started by selling several nearby houses to friends, and reinvesting his commissions in the community. Today The Menkiti Group and KWCP are among the fastest-growing private companies in the country, and two of the fastest growing inner-city businesses in America. Mr. Menkiti is now able to reinvest far more than commission checks into communities.
“If you can take capital and reinvest into the infrastructure of neighborhoods that have been underinvested in, you can support small businesses to move there and thrive, and you start to create activity, and that activity draws people—people who are there have a better quality of life, and new people come back into those communities… it creates pride, it brings in arts and culture, it starts to change educational, health, and safety outcomes.”
The Menkiti Group focuses its investments on cities with strong macro demographic and economic fundamentals and neighborhoods where there is a perception that prevents people from seeing its real value.
“I think that’s the thing that I’ve been most passionate about,” says Mr. Menkiti. “This idea that in life there are people… there are communities that have value, and that the ability to reach down inside and highlight that value—to give that value and talent an opportunity to shine—is one of the most important things you can do. In many ways it’s what Roxbury Latin did for me.”
The Wyner Lecture—established in 1985 by Jerry Wyner, Class of 1943, and his sister, Elizabeth Wyner Mark—is a living memorial to their father, Rudolph Wyner, Class of 1912. Past speakers in the lecture series include historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin; Schindler’s List Holocaust survivor Rena Finder; Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry campaign; Mark Edwards, founder of Opportunity Nation; and, in 2019, Dr. Iqbal Dhaliwal of MIT; Jameel Poverty-Action Lab. RL is grateful to continue shedding light on important social issues through the Wyner Lecture.