By Shannon Sigafoos

On a sweltering summer day, Kyara Gray ’11 and her best friend, business partner, and husband, Khalil Uqdah, made the rounds of the Lehigh Valley on what could have been considered a mini homecoming tour. There were three stops to make—one at her alma mater (Lafayette), one at his (Lehigh University), and a visit with local TV station WFMZ to discuss their Baltimore-based seven-figure real estate firm.

Kyara Gray ’11 and her husband husband, Khalil Uqdah

In less than a decade’s time, the couple has not only managed to change the face of Baltimore through thoughtful development, but they’ve also realized that others in their community—and in communities everywhere—should have the knowledge and tools at their disposal to add value to their neighborhoods. They now mentor others to follow in their footsteps through their NEXTGen Accelerator program.

The positive energy that rolls off of the couple in waves may help explain how, in their early 20s, they decided to jump headfirst into the real estate investment world with no formal training, without mentors in the field, and no idea of how much could go right (or wrong). Both were in full-time jobs with good benefits when they boldly decided to take the next step in their future.

“We were sitting on the couch in Manchester, Connecticut, where we had been living for about six months. We were tired of spending our money on things that didn’t really matter, so we sat together and decided to create a vision board. We asked ourselves, ‘What are our lives going to look like in the next 10 years?’” recalls Uqdah. “We cut out magazine clippings and put them on a board, and we figured out what was important to each of us. And it really came down to community change, positive impact on the world, wealth, and something we could pass down to our future child.”

The couple with their daughter, Mikayla

Now parents to their young daughter, Mikayla, they’ve been raising her in a world where they take her to the homes they’re buying and renovating, introducing her to their new tenants and their families, exposing her to many different environments, and allowing her to see herself in the spaces they’re working in. They do this not only so that their child grows up in a world where she understands her experiences, but so that the families they are working with can see that they have the opportunity to raise their own children in safe, secure housing.

They also want others to know how much they learned from failure along the way.

There is, of course, a certain naivete that anyone would be accused of if they decided, fresh out of college, to purchase and renovate housing when they had never even so much as spoken about it to anyone in the past. Gray’s degree in economics and finance and Uqdah’s degree in business management and economics, however—not to mention that she was a successful track runner and he was a record-setting pole vaulter at their respective colleges—provided them the right foundation and a mindset that they would not be deterred.

“We’ve had a lot of success, but also a ton of failures along that way. We could give you stories all day long. The difference, though, is that we kept going. We had the audacity to try and go for it and make it happen. And we didn’t quit when it got hard,” says Gray, who credits family stories about her ancestors settling Hinsonville, Pennsylvania in the 1800s as part of what gave her the bug to build community and make something from nothing. “Being athletes, we knew how to dig deep and get it done, and that’s something that really helped us pull through.”

In those early days, the pair didn’t even tell their respective families and closest friends what they were up to. They wanted to keep the energy around them positive at all times, which meant they would spend time balancing each other and trying to keep out anyone else’s fears or doubts about the risks they knew they were taking. Now that they’ve come out on the other side, they want to share what they’ve learned with today’s college students who may be questioning their own futures.

“The only way to really grow—which is why people are in college in the first place—is to lean into that fear. Comfort is where you stay stagnant,” says Uqdah. “Anybody who wants to grow, thrive and become a better version of themselves … closer to their true north closer to their ultimate future self …   I would tell them that they’ve got to lean into that fear.”

A grounded, serious, playful and very realistic portrait of their business and personal lives is what Gray and Uqdah share with their more than 65k Instagram followers. In a world where social media has made everyone accessible for comparison and where many gloss over difficulties to only show the brightest side of everything, Charm City Buyers wants their audience to know that mistakes happen—and that there is no way to gloss over them.

The more you present your authentic self—failures and all—is how you keep moving forward in the most positive way.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to teach people how to invest in real estate and buy houses. To do that in a real way, we have to show that there are two sides. This is not a 30-minute HGTV segment. There are times when a contractor botches a job. There are times when tenants completely destroy your investment property. How do you navigate that, or prevent it from happening?” says Gray. “The only way for us to be authentic is to show both the good and the bad of this business.”

The personal moments the duo have captured, however—celebrating successes with each other, working with their neighbors, bringing their daughter along on adventures—make up the fabric of who they are and what they’ve become since they first met through mutual friends and as students of rival colleges. Together, they are looking toward the coming years, continuing to dream big, and are ready to continue putting in the hard work it takes to grow their business.

“It’s about expanding ourselves individually and as a couple, and just being around different people who inspire us,” says Gray. “So in turn, we can motivate and inspire others.”