Former NBA, NFL players helping build up communities of color

Devean George and Malcolm Johnson among real estate pros featured at UCLA Luskin Lecture

Mary Braswell
May 16, 2024

Los Angeles Lakers veteran Devean George’s second career building safe and affordable housing for communities in need was inspired, in part, by his conversations with children.

During his 11-year NBA run, which included three championship seasons in L.A., George used his platform to connect with young people — “to really open up kids’ minds to dreaming and thinking there’s another world outside their four walls.”

But the encounters often came with a reality check, he told a UCLA Luskin Lecture audience May 9 at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles.

“I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to talk to kids and say, ‘Hey, eat your vegetables and you’ll grow like me and get good grades,’” George said. “And they don’t really know where their next meal is coming from or where they’re staying. They’re staying at grandma’s house tonight or with their mom’s boyfriend tomorrow, or they’re somewhere else so they’re missing school.”

Spurred by the need for safe, stable housing options across the country, he created the George Group North development company and Building Blocks nonprofit in his hometown of Minneapolis. His first housing venture there includes a gathering space for youth, with homework help and food provided by the local school district.

At the lecture, George joined former NFL wide receiver Malcolm Johnson, who launched Langdon Park Capital in 2021, and Malika Billingslea, a senior development advisor to commercial real estate firm NEOO Partners — to share the struggles and successes of building up neighborhoods of color. The discussion was moderated by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs professor and housing scholar Michael Lens.

Read the full story about the lecture on the Luskin School’s website.