The Rev. Cornelius Brown and his wife wanted their son, Joshua Brown, to be the real estate agent to sell their Bushwick home. After serving three decades as senior pastor of Stuyvesant Heights Christian Church in Bedford —Stuyvesant, the couple was ready to retire. They expected their son to earn a large commission on the deal.
However, the minister was stunned when his son's broker received a huge of cut the commission.
“It was an eye-opener,” Rev. Brown told BK Reader. “That wasn't right. But that's how things work in the industry.”
Growing up, Joshua Brown witnessed his father serve as a spiritual leader, an agent for community improvement, and a champion of fair play. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Rev. Brown came to Brooklyn in 1987 when Stuyvesant Heights Christian Church hired him as its senior pastor. He arrived in Bed-Stuy at a dark time in the neighborhood's history:
“I came to the church when crack cocaine was at its height,” he recalled. “For me, it was an extreme challenge, because the community was devastated by the epidemic.”
Rev. Brown said he worked with other Brooklyn ministers in housing development during Mayor David Dinkins' administration. Under his leadership, Rev. Brown's church operated a senior center for 10 years and an early learning center that graduated hundreds of children over the decades.
“We worship on Sunday, but we serve Monday through Sunday,” was one of his guiding principles throughout his ministry at the church.
So, inspired by those lessons, Joshua Brown began to reimagine a different type of real estate company — one that serves its community and is built on a business model that treats its agents like partners.
In December 2019, he launched Push Forward Realty, a Bushwick-based cooperative real estate firm committed to community development. To help fulfill his mission, Brown asked his father to join the team.
“Whenever you start a business venture, you need to have someone who has your back. Plus, my father is a retired pastor with a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and people skills,” Brown told BK Reader.
The father and son duo envisioned a progressive business arrangement between the brokerage and its agents. Joshua Brown said it is unfair that agents typically do most of the work but must share a large portion of the sales commission, sometimes up to 50 percent, with their broker.
Now a broker himself, Joshua Brown organized his company as a cooperative, in which the agents are worker-owners who share in the company's profits and have voting rights on how the company is operated.
“We are also passionate about development,” Joshua Brown said. “We want to be a resource to the community, educating people about mortgage fraud and how to prevent foreclosures, as well as the importance of having a will and a living trust.”
Indeed, Black homeowners in Central Brooklyn have been losing their homes at an alarming rate mainly from deed theft and the city's controversial Third Party Transfer Program.
Real estate ownership is also one of the best ways for Black people to bridge the economic gap with their White counterparts and to build stable, prosperous communities, Joshua Brown added.
His father also brings to the table some know-how about refurbishing old buildings and navigating the city's permit system. He managed more than $1 million of renovations at the church and a two-year struggle to obtain a certificate of occupancy from city officials to operate the learning center.
“I felt really empowered when my dad joined the team,” Brown said, adding that his father is an important confidant and adviser in the business. “My dad doesn't tell me what I want to hear – he tells me what I need to hear.
“I know that his negative feedback comes from a place of love, and ultimately from a place of wanting to see me excel,” he said.