Paige McDaniels unlocked the door to her North Oakland real estate office on Monday, at precisely 7:00 a.m. After stepping inside and flipping on the light switch, she set her briefcase on the reception desk and raced to deactivate the alarm system within the allotted time. As her fingers punched in the numeric code on the keypad, the previous night's tears threatened to return. No one in the office but Paige knew that the alarm code she'd chosen was her baby's due date. Although the office was empty and would remain that way for two more hours, before the arrival of her staff, Paige refused to shed more tears today. She had already lost a full night's rest and was depending on the double espresso she'd picked up from Starbucks on her way in to get her through the morning.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and relocked the office door. Before retrieving her briefcase, Paige surveyed the three-thousand-square-foot office space, which she owned the title to. “Father, I don't deserve this, but I do thank you. You've definitely ordered my steps.”
When Paige graduated with a master's degree in business marketing from Stanford ten years ago, she'd no idea she would one day own the most prestigious and profitable independent real estate company in the Bay Area. She'd big plans to work for a Fortune 500 company, like Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble. That changed when her parents listed their home for sale with a national real estate franchise and received less than satisfactory results. After months of excuses from the Realtor, her parents ended up selling the house for less than it was worth and had to scale down their retirement plans.
The ordeal sparked a desire in Paige to learn as much as she could about real estate. Eventually, she stopped sending out her rÃ©sumÃ© for other positions and started studying for the state broker's exam. She passed on the first try and planned to use the license to keep family and close friends from experiencing the stress her parents had when they sold their home. One day, while stopped at a red light on her way to the post office to mail off a batch of rÃ©sumÃ©s for positions open in real estate, a real estate office sign caught Paige's attention. To this day, she still couldn't explain what had attracted her to the stucco building, but once she stepped inside, Paige knew that was where she belonged. An extensive conversation with the owner served as confirmation.
The owner, a broker named Mr. Carrington, ran the business with his wife, but he was planning on retiring the following year and was looking for someone to take over the business since his children had moved to the East Coast. That day Paige stopped seeking a job with a Fortune 500 company and went to work at the real estate office. For twelve months Paige worked long days and weekends, soaking up everything she could about the business from Mr. Carrington. He complimented her often on her work, yet when he presented her with an offer to sell her the business, Paige was awestruck. The business was worth more than he was asking for it and included the building. With her family's encouragement and Mr. Carrington's creative and lenient financing terms, Paige took a chance and dove into the Bay Area's competitive and oftentimes cutthroat real estate world.
Through the years, Paige watched new offices sprout up overnight around Oakland and in the surrounding cities, especially during the real estate boom of the early 2000s. She then watched those same businesses close just as fast when the housing market fell. Her business, Highpoint Real Estate, wasn't unscathed by the bust, but the company managed to reinvent itself to adjust to the real estate climate. After a barrage of foreclosures and short sales, both Highpoint's assets and clientele increased, and the company added a property management division. Paige's personal assets also increased. Thanks to upside-down mortgages and short sales, she acquired two single-family homes and a fourplex. Paige appreciated God's favor on her life but would trade the material blessings for a chance to go back and right the wrong she committed thirteen years ago.
She walked past the eight workstations and thanked God that each of them was occupied by an honest and reliable agent. Not all of them were Christians, but they all had integrity and good morals. Only once in ten years had a complaint been filed against Highpoint with the CalBRE, and that case was dismissed without prejudice. Once inside her spacious office, she switched on the light and, with slow, deliberate steps, trudged into the room in which she spent more hours than she did in her bedroom.
Tenâhour workdays were the norm for Paige on most days. In addition to running her business, Paige taught a junior entrepreneur night class at the local high school on Monday evenings. She also attended Wednesday night Bible study, Thursday night choir rehearsal, and Friday night intercessory prayer clinic. Between attending to clients on Saturdays, Paige volunteered at the local food bank, where she created food packages. Sunday, which she considered her day of rest, included singing on praise and worship in all three worship services and visiting the sick and shut-ins in the afternoon with the home care ministry. Although she enjoyed working and serving, Paige often wondered if she was doing enough.
She booted her computer and waited for the strong brown liquid to work its magic while she checked her e-mail. Halfway through the double espresso and before 7:45 a.m., she finished returning e-mails and went over the agenda for the next junior entrepreneur class. She was just about to review the company's trust account when her cell phone rang. She hesitated briefly after reading the caller ID.
“I didn't expect to hear from you today,” Paige stated without offering the caller a greeting. It was Tyson Stokes, her good friend and the man who had fathered her baby all those years ago.
“Why not?” Tyson asked, as if he found the statement absurd. “We're friends, and I remember what today is just as well as you do. I know this time of year is hard on you. I just wanted to check on you.”
“How does your wife feel about you checking on me?” Paige didn't mean to sound bitter, because she really wasn't. When the unwanted pregnancy occurred, she and Tyson discovered they made much better friends than lovers. They made the decision together to end the pregnancy. He supported her through the ordeal, and like Paige, he spent years regretting that decision. Through the years they would encourage one another, but now Tyson had others to lean on and to fill the empty space. When he recently married and celebrated the birth of his daughter, Paige shared in his joy by attending both the wedding and the baby shower. God had given her friend a second chance, but not Paige.
“Come on, Paige. You know Reyna's not like that. In fact, she's sitting right here, nursing Destiny. I explained everything to her, and she understands.”
“Hi, Paige,” she heard her former employee say in the background and regretted the misplaced hostility.
“Tell Reyna I said hello.” Paige paused. “I didn't mean anything by that comment. I'm really happy for you, I just wish . . . well, you know.”
“Trust me, I do know. I just completely released the guilt last year. Hold on. It will get better.”
Paige had heard those words so much in the past, she wasn't sure she believed them anymore, but she needed something to hold on to, especially today.
“I know. I just have to keep working and believing.”
“That's good. Stay positive and do something nice for yourself today,” Tyson suggested.
“I am. I'm working,” she said with a slight sigh. She heard the baby crying in the background. “Thanks for checking on me, but you better go. I think your spoiled daughter wants your attention.”
“Spoiled she is,” Tyson said proudly. “Oh, one more thing before you go. Kev said to tell you he referred a colleague to you.”
Another client was just what Paige needed in her already jam-packed schedule to keep her mind occupied. “Thanks. Now get back to your family.” She hung up the phone without waiting for a reply and then gulped the now lukewarm espresso.
“The most important thing is to create a product our schoolmates will like,” suggested Jasmine, a twelfth grader with green synthetic braids pulled back into a ponytail.
“We have to consider quality and value first,” Seniyah countered.
Jasmine's lips twisted, and her neck rolled. “Who cares about quality and value? Our target market is high school students, and everybody knows high school kids don't care nothing about quality and value. If it's popular, we'll buy it.”
“It could be toast on a stick,” another girl added, “but if the right football player endorses it, the entire student body will walk around eating burnt toast attached to toothpicks and will swear up and down how cool it is.”
“That may be,” Seniyah pleaded, “but our business can't give validity to every stereotype about us. We should want our business to make a difference.”
“We will make a difference.” Jasmine paused for dramatic effect. “All the way to the bank,” she hollered, then gave one of the girls a high five and laughed.
To keep from laughing along with the high-strung teenager, Paige shifted her stance, leaning against the podium, and glanced down at her watch.
“Everything isn't about money,” Seniyah said, pouting.
“When you don't have any, it is.” Jasmine's face twisted as she scanned up and down Seniyah's thick frame. “Based on those Goodwill specials you have on, your every thought should be about money. You should wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, âLawd, where is my money!'”
Seniyah sulked in the chair, while the other seven girls laughed.
“Let's focus.” Paige regained control of the junior entrepreneur class before the lively discussion got out of hand. “Although they have different philosophies, Jasmine and Seniyah are both correct in their approach to business. The key, which can sometimes be difficult but is possible, is to balance quality and value with demand. Do you get my point?”
All the girls nodded except for Seniyah, who hung her head. Paige felt sorry for her. She couldn't admit it openly, but Seniyah was her favorite in the group. For a teenager, she had great business insight and was a 4.0 student with a sixteen hundred SAT score. In four months Seniyah would graduate from high school at the top of her class, and then she would be off to Stanford on a full scholarship. Not bad for a girl from the roughest and most violent neighborhood in Oakland, a place known as the “killing ground.” She was the youngest of six children and would be the first sibling to graduate high school.
Jasmine's home life wasn't much better, but thanks to her older brother, who specialized in street pharmaceuticals, Jasmine could afford the latest fashion trends and had a car. The green and yellow hair would make one think she wasn't too bright and didn't have any goals that didn't include acrylic nails and extensions. Paige thought that very thing until Jasmine approached her after the first class session and shared her five-year and ten-year plans. If Jasmine reached her goals, she'd own a chain of salonâchild-care centers by the time she was thirty.
Paige walked over to Jasmine. “Let me explain further,” she said, pointing at Jasmine's green hair. “Colored hair is in high demand. I've seen adults, as well as teenagers, with every color of the rainbow on their heads. The demand is there. The challenge is to produce a high-quality product that looks naturalâsomething that doesn't make your hair frizz and that's easy to manage. Maybe a grade you can curl and not just braid.”
“I get it.” Jasmine looked perplexed, like she was in deep thought.
Seniyah finally looked up. “That's what I was trying to say.”
“Well, you didn't say it right,” Jasmine snapped.
Paige spoke up before more insults flew. “Now that we have an understanding, let's create our product.”
Forty-five minutes and two interventions later, Paige jumped up from the small school desk, grinning like a proud mother instead of the community volunteer she was. After brainstorming and debating, the ladies had agreed unanimously on a business name and had decided to create and sell a product that would not only make their business profitable but would help others as well. DWAP, or Divas with a Plan, would make and sell beaded necklaces. A percentage from each sale would go into a fund to purchase blankets for the local shelter to distribute.
“Praise God! I am so proud of you all.” Paige raised her arms and looked toward the ceiling. “And I know He is proud too. This venture can't help but be blessed. All we need is a little faith and hard work and DWAP will beâ”
“Uh, Miss Paige,” Jasmine interrupted, “have you forgotten that rule about keeping religion out of public schools? You can't be talkin' about God up in here. A teacher or an assistant principal might hear you and shut the program down. I believe in God like you do, but you need to wait till Sunday to catch the spirit. I need this program to help me learn the basics for my future hair and child-care franchises.”
Paige's jaw fell.
“Isn't Jesus the same yesterday, today, and forever?” Jasmine stated more than questioned.
Paige nodded, still trying to find the words to address the fact that Jasmine had squelched her praise.
“Then He'll receive your praise on Sunday at church.”
The others, including Seniyah, laughed at Jasmine's rebuke.
“I guess you're right,” Paige answered, more embarrassed than offended. She walked to the blackboard and picked up some chalk and moved on to the next subject. “Let's identify our suppliers.”
“That's right. Let's keep it moving. I have to stop by the beauty supply store after this,” Jasmine announced.
Paige swallowed the smart comeback she had for the young lady with green hair. Paige was used to being in control. She directed conversations and instructed others and assigned tasks. Jasmine might have the body of a grown woman, but she wasn't an adult. Paige was the adult/mentor, and it was her responsibility to act like one.
Father, show me how to handle your child,
she prayed inwardly.