In observance of Black History Month, GFWAR would like to shine a light on several of our members, past and present, who were trailblazers in their industry both as REALTORS® and as Black Americans.
The late Charles McMillan, the first Black president of the National Association of REALTORS®, guided the organization through a difficult economic downturn in 2009. Before becoming NAR President, he was President of GFWAR in 1991 and Texas REALTORS® in 1998.
Charles’ hardscrabble childhood, in which he spent his years living and working on his family’s farm in Whiteville, North Carolina, instilled in him a rock-solid work ethic. An Air Force veteran who was stationed in Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines during two tours of duty, Charles got into the real estate business in Fort Worth in the early 1980s, initially as an investor. He started his sales career during another extremely challenging period for real estate markets: He succeeded despite double-digit interest rates and plummeting oil prices in his home state.
An innately inspirational speaker and leader, Charles became a sales manager and trainer for a Century 21 franchise in the Fort Worth area early in his career. By 1987, he had earned his broker’s license and become an expert in buyer agency.
Charles was named REALTOR® of the Year by GFWAR in 1992 and was named Texas REALTOR® of the Year in 2000. He was a past chairman of the Community Development Council of Fort Worth, the Tarrant County Affordable Housing Task Force, and a past director of the United Way of Tarrant County and of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
During his term as NAR President, he won passage of an $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers, launched a foreclosure prevention and response program, and succeeded in an eight-year battle to prevent banking conglomerates from entering the real estate brokerage and property management business.
Throughout his time in leadership at the state and national level, Charles remained an integral part of the GFWAR family. He devoted countless hours instructing new members on the Code of Ethics, engaging members with his passion for service, and mentoring agents and new leaders of the association. Charles was an active volunteer with GFWAR from the start of his real estate career, and we remain immensely proud of his groundbreaking accomplishments.
Charles McMillan passed away in 2017 at the age of 66, leaving behind a son, three grandsons, and a great-grandaughter. His son Charles is also now a REALTOR®.
Helen Collins Epps was President of GFWAR in 2008 and was named REALTOR® of the Year in 2010.
Helen grew up in Hubbard, Texas, where she was parented and protected by relatives after the untimely loss of her mother. Her childhood instilled in her a self-reliance and motivation that eventually produced dramatic leadership skills, and in this case, a true ability to inspire others.
In the 1980s, she decided to pursue the real estate business. She started her career with Merrill Lynch, where her caring personality, aptitude for professionalism, and innate sales ability were a perfect fit for the real estate industry. She always saw opportunity – never barriers – and began blazing trails in her family, community, and business. Soon, she wanted her own real estate company, and opened it, on Wichita Street in southeast Fort Worth.
By the mid-1990s, Helen had become heavily involved in all kinds of activities related to both GFWAR and community real estate groups. She served two terms as President of the Womens’ Council of REALTORS®, became a TREC-certified MCE instructor, and a GRI instructor, teaching statewide for TAR as well as for GFWAR.
Helen served on numerous GFWAR committees, and became President of GFWAR in 2008. She led the association with steady guidance and distinction during a challenging economic year for the real estate industry, and her leadership is remembered for her focus on engagement in the community and work to bring new voices into the association.
In the community, she has been involved with the Tarrant Appraisal District Review Board, the Board of the Metropolitan Black Chamber, and was appointed to the City of Fort Worth Community Development Council.
Today, she focuses much of her energy on family and the Morning Star Prayer Center she founded with her husband, Robert Epps, and is reaching an even wider community through her own mentoring, prayer, and bible study.
Mel Harris was President of GFWAR in 2010 and was named REALTOR® of the Year in 2011.
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Mel came from a large family and music became a big part of his life at a very young age. From Paschal High School, he entered the Air Force in 1978, and during three years of service lived in Japan, the Philippines, and Korea. He attended Texas A&M/ Commerce and Tarrant County College/Northwest Campus, where he has been named a Distinguished Alumni.
Mel entered the real estate business in 1998 as a real estate project consultant with the U.S. Postal Service. He learned the brokerage business at Visions Realty and Investments and Stanfield Realty before obtaining his brokers’ license in 2004. In 2005, he started his own commercial real estate firm, Elements Realty Group, LLC.
Mel is a graduate of the Texas REALTORS® Leadership Program and the Texas REALTORS® Instructor Training Institute. While serving as a Member of the NAR Board of Directors for several years, Mel was a recipient of the 2013 Evergreen Award from NAR and the 2017 Grassroots Advocate of the Year from the Texas REALTORS®. Most recently, he served as a member of the NAR Sustainability Advisory Board and 2021 Immediate Past Chair for the Global Committee of Texas REALTORS®. He has constantly sought not only avenues for involvement, but also self-improvement, obtaining eight NAR-recognized professional designations: including AHWD, GRI, C2EX, CIPS, GREEN, e-PRO, and SFR.
Mel recently completed a term of service as a Presidential Appointee on the GFWAR Board of Directors in 2020, and is recognized for his in-depth knowledge of commercial and global real estate.
Mel has held memberships in both the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber and the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber, and continues to devote himself to his industry and his community.
The late Johnny J. Bennett was the 2012 President of GFWAR and a pilar of his community.
A native of Fort Worth, Johnny attended Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School from kindergarten through 8th grade. He graduated from Laneri Catholic High School, an all-boys high school with 180 students, in 1960. He was one of five Black students in the school. He then attended North Texas State College (now known as the University of North Texas) for two years and later spent a year studying at Tarrant Community College. In 1997, he received a bachelor’s degree in Business and Organizational Management from Paul Quinn College in Dallas, TX, graduating Cum Laude.
Johnny became a licensed real estate professional in 1967 and had a career that spanned over five decades. He received his Broker license in April 1973 and was the Broker/CEO of J.J. Bennett & Associates Realty Co LLC.
As a member of the Realtist® organization, Johnny served as President of the Fort Worth Association of Realtist® (FWAR) on two different occasions. Johnny also served on the Board of Directors for the Texas Association of Real Estate Brokers (TAREB). In 2010, Johnny completed the Texas REALTORS® Leadership Program. He was a member of the Texas REALTORS® Nominating and Housing Initiatives Committees and served on the NAR Board of Directors. Most recently, Johnny had been selected as the Federal Political Coordinator, assigned to Congressman Marc Veasey of the Texas 33rd Congressional District.
Johnny is best remembered for his steady leadership of our association, mentorship of future association leaders, and his dignity and grace when dealing with everyone in the industry that had the pleasure of interacting with him.
Johnny Bennett passed away in 2020. He was married to his wife Janet L. Bennett for 47 years. They have four adult children (one son, three daughters), ten grandchildren (seven grandsons, three granddaughters), and one great-granddaughter.