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The decision to invite President Barack Obama to the NAHREP Policy Conference last Spring was a decision I made with the NAHREP National Board. Anytime we have a political figure of that stature at one of our events, we know it will stimulate a lot of buzz among our members and stakeholders. I admire President Obama, but I know full well that not everyone is a fan of the former president. Politics are more polarizing than ever and NAHREP is not exempt. On the positive side, we have had President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton at previous events and those events played out very successfully for us. Coming out of the pandemic, I wanted to do something big that would show that NAHREP was not only back, it was bigger and stronger than ever.
The Obama team approved our invitation last Winter. The process is long and arduous. As the person who would interview the president, I also had to be thoroughly vetted. The significance of President Barack Obama coming to a NAHREP event was not lost on me. All presidents are historical figures by definition, but Obama is different. Other than Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and maybe Thomas Jefferson, most people couldn’t name another president before the 20th century. However, historians will undoubtedly be writing books about America’s first Black president for a hundred years or more. As some of you may know, Obama contracted COVID a few days before our event in March and was forced to cancel. We had the option to cancel his participation or move it to another event in the future. We chose to move it to our NAHREP at L’ATTITUDE event in September and fortunately it fit in the former president’s schedule.
By moving the event to the fall, NAHREP would be forced to share branding of the event with L’ATTITUDE, but I would still be the person who interviewed the former president. The stage with NAHREP at L’ATTITUDE is even larger than what we could provide at our March event. NAHREP is a juggernaut in the housing and political arenas, but L’ATTITUDE touches media, entertainment, venture capital, and sports. It is also one of the few conferences in the country, Hispanic or otherwise, that is covered by the national media. With more time to plan, I started to think about how to take full advantage of Obama’s presence at this event. I began talking to everyone about it, my family, the board, and my closest friends. The feedback I got ranged from “don’t get too political” to “you have to hit him hard on immigration”. Part of my deal with Obama’s team was that they had to approve the questions in advance and that process took some time. I won’t say they wanted me only to ask “softball” questions, but they definitely wouldn’t approve of a hard-hitting interview. That was Ok in my book. I am not a journalist so there was no upside to me having a “gotcha” moment with the former president. It would also be a bit amateurish on my part. Instead, I thought there was an opportunity to do more – to accomplish something bigger. At the end of the day, my goal is always to elevate the Latino brand, break down barriers, and give everyone involved a fresh perspective. A few months before the convention, I had a breakthrough.
I met Chris Holiday through my friends at Media 34. Chris used to work for Obama during his first campaign for president and while he was in the White House. Chris wears many hats but was best known for being Obama’s connection to the sports and entertainment worlds. He’s a cool dude that is on a first-name basis with some of the biggest names in basketball and the hip-hop community. I had dinner with him, Armando, and the Media 34 guys. Chris said something to me that stuck; he said that with NAHREP and L’ATTITUDE, you have the opportunity to build a strategic relationship with the Obamas. I hadn’t thought of that. Barack Obama is only 61 years old, and he is still a major player in the political and business communities. While I don’t expect to be on Barack Obama’s speed dial anytime soon, having a strategic relationship would mean we essentially would be on the president’s shortlist for anything he is connected to that involves Latinos and business. That could be significant because there is no telling what new doors could open.
The journey to get to the point where I am interviewing my third former president began 22 years ago when Ernie Reyes and I started NAHREP. I have met a lot of amazing people and have learned a ton during that journey. NAHREP is a powerful network of Latinos in real estate and L’ATTITUDE is a world-class platform that is just starting to scratch the surface of what it could become. Launching a $100M VC fund for Latino start-ups is the first of many initiatives that I expect will come out of L’ATTITUDE. There is a lot at stake. However, both NAHREP and L’ATTITUDE belong to the Latino community as far as I am concerned, and I feel a sense of responsibility they represent our community well. After my dinner with Chris, my new goal with the Obama interview was not only to give the audience a good show but to make an impression on Obama himself that could lead to something else – no small feat. The data released at L’ATTITUDE is gob-smacking. Part of our goal is to create a new narrative about the Latino community and to educate people at the highest levels of business and politics. Obama is well-read and hyper-intelligent, but I still think there is plenty he can learn from NAHREP and L’ATTITUDE about the Latino market.
NAHREP at L’ATTITUDE 2022 was a massive success. A crowd of 6,380 got to see CEOs, entrepreneurs, athletes, movie stars, and media personalities, but President Barack Obama’s session was by far the most popular. Attendees began forming a line at 5:30 AM, and a full hour before the 11 AM start time, there were more than 3,000 people in line for 1,800 available seats. An overflow ballroom was set up for a live stream for attendees who did not get in. Did my interview go as well as I hoped? If you were there, I would love to hear your opinion. From my perspective, I thought the entire experience including the interview went as well as I had hoped. I felt I was in the moment, and I don’t think there were many things I missed. People clamored for a seat to hear President Barack Obama speak, not me. I understood that, but it was important, for all of us, that I got in a few key points and held my own in the interview. I think I accomplished that. Another thing Chris Holiday told me was that money is important, but it doesn’t guarantee you a seat at the table of power – where the real decisions get made. For the 60 minutes I was on stage with the former leader of the free world, I felt like I was at that table. A table where only a few Latinos have ever sat. It was invigorating and humbling at the same time.
Armando Tam convinced me to document my personal journey leading up to my interview with the 44th President of the United States. We are thinking of releasing it in a documentary format before the end of the year. This year had been one for the books for sure.