By Norma Adams-Wade
You have to get to know Kevin Brown, his family, and up-bringing to understand his motivation and way of life.
The Dallas native is founder and managing partner of Simply Custom, a residential and commercial construction company that builds lives while building structures.
Simply Custom is a family-owned business on a mission. Its main goals are to empower the African-American community to rebuild itself while helping community home and business owners to close the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots.
“We can become the employer of our own people,” said Brown. “We can rebuild our communities, yes South Dallas, ourselves.”
Brown grew up around builders and had nearly a decade of professional building experience when he founded his company 17 years ago. Simply Custom’s self-empowerment and wealth building plan, so far, has produced more than 1 million square feet of residential and commercial construction for families and business owners throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and surrounding towns, Brown said.
You could say building is in Brown’s blood. His mother, Jeannette Brown-Sneed, also a Dallas native, broke ground as the city’s first Black female Public Works project manager in the Architecture Division in the 1970s and oversaw capital improvement for the Dallas Public Libraries. She managed multi-million budgets and helped lead major improvement projects for the Dallas Public Library system, Dallas Convention Center, and Hall of State building at Fair Park. After nearly 30-years with the city, Brown-Sneed retired as Library Facilities Manager in 2004, then joined her son’s business as Design Services manager.
Brown’s sister, Howunna Johnson, was a financial management executive for major global financial institutions when she retired three years ago to join her brother’s company as chief operating officer. Brown’s wife, Kelly Houston Brown, fills various roles, as do other family members including his son, two daughters and brother-in-law.
Brown speaks with fervor about his mission and vision for upgrading his hometown communities. He envisions a self-empowered Dallas Black community that resists gentrification and keeps economic spending — “Black dollars” — circulating within the community. But not just in DFW. He already has made steps to expand to Houston.
“I know this sounds like a mission impossible,” he declares fervently. “But I believe that given the right opportunity, plan of action, and tools, we will win. … We can restore the legacy of our ancestors who build pyramids in Mother Africa. …We forgot how to build. We’ve got to get back to building our own community.”
How the plan works
When a client hires him to build their home or business, he in turn hires them as super-intendent under a 1099 tax form contract and pays them $2,000 a month for six months. As super-intendent, the client selects and orders building supplies and décor and performs other such duties with Brown’s staff coaching. He said the plan gives the client immediate equity when the project is finished and increases their cash flow and net worth.
Also, since the client essentially is building his or her own home with guidance, Brown said his fee is about 6% to 8% below the national market fee, which further frees up money for the client. He said the average price of Simply Custom homes is about $350,000, but he has built some homes in the $200,000 range. And among his proud projects was constructing a mixed-use office/retail/resident facility that uses the address as its name: 1808 So. Good-Latimer Expwy in the Cedars neighborhood near Deep Ellum and downtown Dallas.
GAP Team and meaning
Sam Anderson IV, a financial advisor and educator, came to Dallas from Detroit nine years ago and moved into a then-new South Dallas/Fair Park town-house – part of a city-sanctioned project to bring new life and progressive residents to the area traditionally labeled a “ghetto.” Anderson was progressive but liked the small urban feel of the neighborhood, he said.
Driving along Al Lipscomb Way in the neighborhood one day, Anderson said his eye instantly caught the distinct architectural modern townhome style of an almost-finished new house he saw some men completing.
“I parked my car, got out, went and knocked on the door,” said Anderson. “It was something different that I had not seen in South Dallas. It was a unique concept to see this house going straight up in the air there.”
One of the men explained that Brown was the contractor. Anderson, who already had strong opinions about revitalizing urban areas and increasing Black-family wealth, was intrigued.
“I just had to meet this guy,” said Anderson who later met Brown, formed a friendship, and joined what Brown called his GAP Team.
The Team is comprised of like-minded folk who want to improve and empower the Black community. Originally, 14 individuals each pooled $500, and with that $7,000 began building a home on their own, from the ground up, divvying up various responsibilities. They held a ribbon-cutting when they finished and closed on selling the home in November 2021, Brown said. Since then, he said the GAP Team has increased to almost 300 members.
GAP and Black Wall Street
Brown said he formed GAP as homage to the historic Black Wall Street, a once long-thriving, Black-owned business dis- trict in Tulsa, Oklahoma that a racist White mob burned to the ground in 1921. In Brown’s business plan, GAP has dual meanings: (a) closing the gaps of deficiencies that Brown says have crippled African-American communities: including wealth, education, health, and social justice gaps and (b) honoring Tulsa’s historic Black Wall Street intersections of Greenwood Avenue and Archer and Pine (GAP) streets in Tulsa.
I was just thinking… Will Brown’s concept carry forward? He already is ahead of me and is preparing the next generation by training and mentoring though his Young Black Builders Club. The youths help with some building projects and receive guidance in handling personal finances and intergenerational wealth building.
His work does not come without challenges. The coronavirus pandemic made many supplies and workers unavailable. During the pandemic, he refunded recently invested money, waited out the worse period, then picked up where he left off. Overcoming community mistrust remains a feat because the Black community has been shortchanged and socially mishandled for centuries, Brown acknowledged. Yet he continues to stand on his family’s long-held Christian belief in love and caring for others, as well as the African-American Kwanzaa tradition of unity and cooperative economics.
*Dallas-area journalist Linda Jones contributed to this report.
Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974. email@example.com