Alex Aaron: Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Blank Slate Development By Cassandra Spratling LLC

Alex Aaron smiles at camera and a blurred landscape is behind.

Howard University not only shaped who Alex Aaron (B.B.A. ’11) was as a child, it molded the man he has become: a widely-respected real estate developer who’s transforming the landscape of Baltimore by restoring vacant and blighted homes while maintaining their historical craftsmanship. In the process, he’s bringing neighborhoods back to life and helping to build generational wealth, especially for African Americans.

Aaron officially founded Blank Slate Development LLC in 2017, but even before then, he’d started reviving abandoned Baltimore homes. As his company’s name implies, he sees vacant houses as a blank slate awaiting creativity. “We salvage existing historical elements and put a modern charm on it,” he said.

By restoring homes in blighted neighborhoods, he’s improving the health and wealth of people who live there. Property values increase, crime goes down, and studies show that when people’s environments improve, their physical and mental health improves as well. Moreover, in many cases, future homeowners gain significant savings because of a 10-year-cap on property taxes for homes in historic districts or with historic architecture.

The company’s biggest endeavor, the North Bethel Street Project in East Baltimore, involved the purchase of 14 row houses that are now being transformed into eight homes. The company broke ground in 2019 and expects to be ready for occupancy by summer 2020.

“I want to promote generational wealth creation through home ownership with a particular focus on the minority community, to make sure people are buying property, holding on to it and building equity that they can pass down to their children and families,” Aaron said.

Howard University laid the foundation for Aaron’s professional and personal life. It was in his blood even before he was born. An uncle, Dr. Michael Mbanaso, was a professor of social work at Howard for 20 years; several cousins attended the University as well. Aaron grew up going to graduations and other events on and around campus. He applied to and was accepted to several universities, but he was thrilled to be admitted to his first choice: Howard.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Aaron who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

He has multiple reasons for his love for Howard. First, being in the School of Business led to one internship after another and eventually a full-time position upon graduation—offered his junior year—at Morgan Stanley in New York City. “If not for Howard, I wouldn’t have ended up on Wall Street,” he said.

Second, he was on campus when Barack Obama became the first African American president of the United States. He recalls the thrill of watching the election results come in with other students. When Obama won, he joined thousands of Howard students who descended on the White House.

“It was a monumental moment in the nation and in D.C., and I wouldn’t have had that experience if I wasn’t at Howard,” he says.

And, perhaps most importantly, he met Irene Harley, a young lady who lived in the same dorm—Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall—during their sophomore year. Like him, Harley graduated in May 2011 and earned a degree in speech language pathology. Six years later, they married.

Aaron thanks Howard for opportunities to meet a wide variety of people from all over the world. “Howard is truly a global institution,” he said. “It is a network of phenomenal people from different countries and different states. It is the mecca, and it is a family.”

The traditions of community service that Howard instilled in him have continued into his professional life. In addition to mentoring students, he’s a board member for Global United Diaspora, a nonprofit organization that helps people throughout the African diaspora, something especially important to him as the child of a Nigerian father.

“Howard University helped me accomplish things that I couldn’t fathom,” Aaron says. “I’ve had experiences that most people only dream of. Most of all, I am forever grateful for the life skills and lifelong friendships that I have gained.”

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