Ujima Developers, LLC is a solution for finding the middle ground between blight and gentrification. Our model of holistic equitable development respects the intersections among history and the future, health and housing, economic mobility and structural barriers to equity. Our approach is to move beyond description of plight toward movements of positive change. We believe your zip code should not determine your access to opportunity nor should it determine your lifespan. We seek to contribute to changing this reality for many of our neighbors across the United States.
As solutionists we each sit among intersections of scholar and activist, scientist and practitioner, capitalist and social entrepreneur, survivor and thriver among other things. This company was founded with the ethic of ‘be the change you want to see.’ We are taking on the role of social impact real estate development because we believe that urban and rural communities can transform with development that is intended to provide a community return on investment.
At Ujima Developers (which means collective work and responsibility) our company culture is structured to embody the principles inherent in the name. Our team and partnerships cover diverse skill sets to deliver consulting, real estate development, and residential services.
The symbol of our logo is heavily inspired by the Adinkra symbol meaning “TRANSFORMATION - change or transform your character”. Adinkra are visual symbols, originally created by the Akan of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, that represent concepts or original thoughts. Adinkra are used on fabric, walls, in pottery, woodcarvings and logos. Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing.
Ujima’s holistic equitable development approach identifies and leverages a community’s human capital as assets to stimulate economic mobility in under-invested communities.
Dr. Leon D. Caldwell is an award-winning community-based-researcher, social entrepreneur and transformational leader. Ujima Developers was founded on the premise that communities can be transformed with intentional investments to improve the life outcomes of residents. Leon has been involved in real estate as a developer, builder, investor, and property manager since 1999.
A West Philadelphia native, Leon graduated from Our Mother of Sorrows, the William Penn Charter School, then received a BA in Economics and M.Ed. in School Counseling from Lehigh University and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Penn State. Following earning his doctorate, he was a staff psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He has held rank and tenure as an Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; the University of Memphis and directed a community research center at Rhodes College. After a successful career as an Associate Professor, award-winning community-based researcher, national thought leader on Black men and boys health, social entrepreneur and Senior Leader in the Philanthropic sector and author with over 50 national and international publications, he established Ujima Developers, LLC as a public health intervention for blighted neighborhoods. His recent work has been published by SAMHSA, the National League of Cities and the Association of Black Foundation Executives.
Excited to return to his home, Philadelphia, Leon seeks to contribute his unique approach to holistic equitable development in re-designing neighborhoods for the optimal wellbeing of residents.
Housing is health! Leon understands the influence of real estate developers on the health and economic mobility of a zip code. Ujima Developers’ approach to social innovation is re-designing neighborhoods for the optimal health of residents.
Dr. Katrina Polk is an expert on multi-generational community building initiatives. She brings to Ujima extensive knowledge and practical experiences such as establishing, managing, and preserving aging-in-community partner relationships with non-profit organizations, corporations, and government agencies across the country. Born and raised in Philadelphia, her approach consists of: improving health and supportive service delivery systems, creating lifespan living opportunities through the WHO "Age-Friendly" initiatives, enhancing neighborhood revitalization efforts, and expanding an "all-inclusive" economy that provides low-income individuals/ families, seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans' participatory rights.
Dr. Polk previously served as the Vice President of Strategic Alliances & Business Development and Senior Director of Aging in Community for Community Preservation and Development Corporation (an Enterprise affiliate), where she connected more than 7,000 seniors to supportive services across multiple platforms, successfully built numerous service delivery networks, efficiently structured and coordinated several food initiatives, and innovatively designed senior "aging-in-place" village models. Dr. Polk earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy with a specialization in Gerontological Health Services from Walden University and her Master’s of Public Policy and Administration from Southeastern University. She serves as the mayoral appointee of Age-FriendlyDC and is the founder of Dynamic Solutions for the Aging, LLC and AgingReady® and co-founder of Aging on the Go!®.
Melissa Lamarre is the Director of Operations at Ujima Developers, a social impact focused real estate development firm. She has been a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson since May 2014, beginning as a residential agent in Brooklyn, NY. Since then, Melissa served as Operations Manager at EXR Group Realty in Williamsburg, NY where she helped the startup grow to 3 locations. Melissa eventually moved on to a larger firm as an Administrative Coordinator on the Operations team at Avison Young, a commercial real estate firm in Manhattan. After moving to Philadelphia, Melissa joined the Brenner Division at City Wide Realty as Team Manager where she managed a team of agents and a large investment sales portfolio.
Ariel Enrique Guerrero, MPA, is the connector for scaling Ujima's holistic equitable development model to cities across the United States. He has a unique understanding of the intersection of community and the driving institutions that work together to create outcomes for individuals and families as well as the need to build effective leadership and leaders within these communities and institutions. Informed, organized, and empowered are the core values of Ariel’s work. Building, bridging, and forming multi-sector solutions with communities is fundamental to overall success. He is committed to supporting and encouraging communities to be the catalyst for the sustaining change they hope to see. Ariel finds great joy in leveraging his core values and experience to help leadership and community create paths of action that promote equity, fairness, and justice.
He is founder and principal of Heart and Armor Group, a multi-dimensional consultancy centered on holistic equitable development and co-founder of the O&G Racial Equity Collaborative, a consultant collective working with institutions on racial equity knowledge building, leadership, and implementation. Ariel’s previous experience is rooted in over 13 years of non-profit, government and philanthropy work with organizations such as the National League of Cities, Lutheran Services in America, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and The National Housing Partnership (NHP) Foundation.