Celebrating African American Leadership within AAR

Celebrating African American Leadership within AAR

February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to recognizing and honoring the significant contributions, accomplishments, and impact of African Americans in our society. Within the Alabama Association of REALTORS®, Black History Month provides a special opportunity to highlight the remarkable achievements of our own African American leaders, and Timothy Mills, Mechelle Wilder, and Senia Johnson stand as exemplary figures among them.

All three leaders were the first African Americans to hold their positions within AAR, and all have served the industry on the federal, state, and local levels. Mills was first elected Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Political Action Committee in the winter of 2022, becoming the first African American member to lead AAR’s Political Action Committee or any AAR affiliated entity. Wilder was first elected as Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Foundation in 2023, becoming the first African American member to lead AAR’s nonprofit. Johnson was elected President of AAR in fall of 2023, becoming the first African American member to lead AAR.

The presence of leaders like Mills, Wilder, and Johnson within AAR is a testament to the talents and capabilities of individuals from diverse backgrounds contributing to the growth and success of the real estate industry. 

“Mechelle, Tim, and Senia are amazing leaders and we are fortunate to have them involved and leading our Association,” said Jeremy Walker, CEO of Alabama REALTORS®. “They inspire us to continue to foster diversity and inclusion within our Association and beyond. I am confident their leadership will inspire the next generation of leaders to get involved and make a difference in the real estate industry.”

Alabama REALTORS® met with these leaders to discuss important topics such as the racial homeownership gap, building generational wealth among the state’s African American community, and expanding diversity within the industry.


Mechelle Wilder: 2023 Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Foundation

Mechelle Wilder, Associate Broker/Founding Partner at ARC Realty, is a long time REALTOR® and a distinguished businesswoman who has earned many accolades throughout her career in real estate. Wilder devotes her time to helping others within the real estate industry and her community, serving on countless boards and participating in numerous volunteer projects.

Wilder has served in many roles in the REALTOR® organization. In 2023, Wilder brought her servant’s heart to play a leading role, serving as the Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Foundation. The foundation distributes relief to victims of natural disasters; provides benevolence assistance to AAR members; and awards post-secondary education scholarships to children and grandchildren of AAR members.

Wilder’s leadership led to notable accomplishments in the foundation's mission, including a record fourteen Alabama students benefitting from scholarships awarded in 2023 through the Alabama Association of REALTORS® Education Scholarship Fund. Students with clear academic and career goals were selected based on their academic performance, recommendations and essays submitted for review by Foundation Trustees. Led by Wilder, the trustees reviewed dozens of anonymous applications to select the scholarship fund recipients.

Alabama has the fourth highest Black homeownership rate in the nation at 50.5%, but the white homeownership rate is 77.1%. While Alabama's gap between Black and white homeowners is already the seventh lowest in the nation, what, if anything, can we do to spur more homeownership among minorities?

"Education is key. We need to provide comprehensive education on the value of homeownership and the financial stability it can bring. This outreach could take various forms, from informative seminars in community spaces like churches, barber shops, and parks to targeted marketing campaigns.

I'm proud of the efforts in our state to promote homeownership among African Americans and I believe it’s part of why we do have such a high percentage of homeownership among the Black community. Through seminars and group discussions, we're effectively spreading awareness about the benefits of owning a home and the lasting financial legacy it can offer to families.

There are numerous mortgage options and fair housing opportunities available for African Americans looking to buy a home. What's crucial is ensuring people are informed about these resources and understand the advantages of homeownership compared to renting.

Increasing overall education and awareness is essential. By equipping individuals with the knowledge and tools they need, we can empower more minorities to pursue homeownership and secure their financial futures."

Are there any role models or historical figures that inspire you, and if so, who and how?

"Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, leader of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, has long been a source of inspiration. His dedication to fairness and justice, coupled with his willingness to make personal sacrifices for his beliefs, deeply resonates with me. His tenure at Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, where my husband began pastoring 35 years ago and continues to serve today, deeply impacted our community.

As for business inspiration, my father, Simuel Sippial Sr., stands out. He founded a successful electrical company in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s, imparting values of excellence and service. His motto, 'always leave a place better than you found it,' guides both my family and business philosophy. His commitment to customer satisfaction, no matter the effort required, continues to inspire me."


Timothy Mills: Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Political Action Committee

Timothy Mills, Broker/Owner at The Mills Company, is a dedicated member of the AAR community and a committed public servant who currently serves as Chair of the Alabama REALTORS® Political Action Committee and as President of the Mobile Area Association of REALTORS®.

Driven by his deep-rooted faith, Mills actively engages in charitable endeavors, making significant contributions to organizations such as the Alpha Charitable Foundation, March of Dimes, and Real Men Wear Pink. His selfless spirit aligns with his belief that "only what you do for Christ will last" and that "growth is in direct proportion to the service that we render to others."

On the state level, as the 2023 and 2024 ARPAC Chair for the Alabama Association of REALTORS®, Mills has played and continues to play a pivotal role in advancing AAR's political agenda and advocating for the interests of its members. Under his leadership, AAR has maintained a strong voice at the state level and achieved numerous advocacy wins.

A New York Times report published a year ago noted that only 6% of real estate agents and brokers across the nation are Black. Do you have any ideas on how to attract more African Americans into the real estate industry, and why do you think participation is currently so low?

“To draw increased participation of African Americans into the real estate industry, one can implement focused outreach programs, mentorship initiatives, and educational support. Tackling barriers like limited access to networks and information, and actively promoting diversity and inclusion within the industry, can contribute to this goal. Simultaneously, the historical disparities, restricted access to opportunities, and a lack of representation have contributed to low participation. Overcoming these challenges necessitates deliberate efforts to establish a more inclusive and supportive environment within the real estate sector.”

How has your participation in AAR impacted your career?

“AAR has offered invaluable resources and strong advocacy support. Additionally, it has presented numerous opportunities for my professional development. AAR actively champions favorable policies, keeping members well-informed about legislative changes in real estate. Networking events and a sense of community further contribute to the association's benefits for its members.”


Senia Johnson: 2024 President of Alabama REALTORS®

In 2024, Senia Johnson, Broker at Keller-Williams Vestavia, marked a historic milestone as she assumed the role of President of the Alabama Association of REALTORS®, becoming the first African American to hold this position. Her visionary leadership, years of experience, and unwavering determination have paved the way for her to lead AAR.

In her installation speech at the Alabama REALTORS® Annual Conference in October of 2023, Johnson humbly acknowledged that she is standing on the shoulders of other trailblazing REALTOR® members of color who came before her. 

As AAR president, Johnson says she is committed to fostering a more inclusive real estate community by focusing on initiatives that promote diversity, provide educational opportunities, and enhance professional development for all members.

Tell us about your journey to a career in real estate. What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them? 

“My path has not been easy. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, so Alabama is not my native state. My mother was a single mom. I was raised by my great-grandmother and struggled both at home and in school.

Because of my skin color and family background, expectations for me were low. Reading was difficult and there were few resources in my segregated school. I had undiagnosed dyslexia, but I persevered by managing the disorder as I navigated a career in the medical field and later, in real estate. I’ve worked hard to this day to overcome that through prayer, hope and determination.

I have been surrounded by so much love and support through my involvement in the real estate industry and through the relationships built during my service at AAR on the executive committee. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given, and I am committed to using this platform to continue to make a difference. I want to provide hope and determination to others!”

What advice would you give to other people of color looking to start a career in real estate?

“This is a relationship business and relationships are truly what makes this a special industry. Get to know people in your community and find a mentor in real estate who can lead and guide you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and build a legacy of your own. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given, and I would not be where I am today if I did not take the first step toward something new and unknown.”