When Erika Brown moved from Texas to Atlanta in 2010, she believed she was following God’s plan for her, her husband Lawrence, and her young boys. What she didn’t know was how much that plan would change — and grow — over time once she got here.
At first, Erika, husband Lawrence, and their two boys (now they have three) landed in the Old Fourth Ward, near the church they came here to help start. Erika was working as a bank manager on the other side of Atlanta, so she had no particular ties to the Westside. But when her Old Forth Ward lease was up, she and three others from the church decided to move to the Westside.
“People were afraid to move to the Westside in 2010,” said Erika. “They were nervous about crime and safety.”
But if we had wanted to be comfortable, she decided, they should have stayed in Dallas where they had family and babysitters at the ready.
They drove around the Westside, getting a feel for the different neighborhoods. It was then that she first found Grove Park, although they ended up buying a house in the West End.
During her six years in the West End, Erika became very invested in her neighborhood and neighbors. Her group started a Bible study. She joined neighbors in starting the Washington Cluster Advocacy Group to advocate for educational equity on the Westside. Through her advocacy, she learned more about the neighborhoods and schools in the Douglass High School cluster — which is the cluster for Grove Park. Those connections gave her more insight into the many neighborhoods that flow seamlessly into one another along Hollowell Parkway, including English Avenue and Grove Park.
Lawrence was working for Peace Preparatory Academy in English Avenue at the time. Through that connection, Erika met Hessel Baker and Justin Bleeker of Grove Park Renewal, which was just starting its work renewing homes in Grove Park.
When she was introduced to LaTonya Gates Johnston and PAWKids, she saw how much the needs of the English Avenue and Grove Park neighborhoods mirrored those of the West End neighborhoods where she was investing.
Over time, as she made more connections, she became known as an expert in the different Westside neighborhoods. When friends would decide to move to the Westside, she helped them scout out neighborhoods and houses.
“I helped about 20 people move into different Westside neighborhoods, just passing them on to a real estate agent once they knew what they wanted,” said Erika. “Finally, I realized I wanted to be able to help them myself. I wanted to help provide jobs and opportunities for people in the community.”
So Erika gave up her bank manager position and got her real estate license. She called her friend from Texas, Omid “Oz” Zanjanchian, and asked him to help her start Erika Brown and Associates. Then she hired marketing coordinator Sandy Hafeez, and her core team was set. Since 2016, Erika Brown and Associates has added two more team members and plans to expand more.
Now, her family is firmly planted, with one foot in English Avenue and one in Grove Park. They built a house in English Avenue and moved in just in time to shelter-in-place there in March. Erika, Lawrence, and his brother started Integrity Home Solutions which provides landscaping, property management, staging, and project management services on the Westside while providing jobs, skills, and experience to Westside residents. Both businesses — Erika Brown & Associates and Integrity Home Solutions — have offices in the 1566 Hollowell Building, the community hub developed by Grove Park Renewal.
Because of her deep sense of community and her advocacy for children and families on the Westside, Erika was asked to join the Grove Park Renewal board in 2019.
“On the Westside, we need to all work together,” said Erika. “We’re encountering the same issues and we have the same needs. Education. Housing. Stability.”