Echo Profile: Gambian-American Developer, Cherno M. Njie, Makes Headlines

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By Ebrima G Sankareh, Editor-in-Chief

In Literature writes the legendary English poet, playwright and dramatist, William Shakespeare, thus: “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”. — (Twelfth Night: Act II, Scene V).

Invoking Shakespeare’s immortal lines about the quality of greatness and its different phases of attainment comes naturally because, for two years now, my journalistic instincts have always pushed me to showcase a Gambian phenomenon by every standard but given his reluctance to radiate in the public glare, I had to cautiously wait for the right moment and now the American press has come to notice my phenomenon—Cherno Momodou Njie, CEO of Songhai Development Company, Austin, TX, who dramatically hits the headlines recently thanks to his groundbreaking business credentials.

Given my proximity to Mr. Njie and his company for some years now, I can relate to Shakespeare’s hypothesis and say that Njie was not born great, and then jump to the third phase, that greatness was never thrust onto him either. This leaves us with two possible questions: did he achieve greatness and if so, is he afraid of greatness? The answer to both questions is for you my dear readers to articulate but for now, who is this fellow forcing me to invoke Shakespeare in an American winter where epiphanies remain a rarity?

A very quiet and serious fellow with a very sharp intellect, unassuming, attentive, calm and calculating but equally shrewd and lucid and above all, highly disciplined and introspective with a penchant for academic and political discourse. These descriptions whatever they may mean to you, readily come to mind when asked to describe Cherno Momodou Njie, a native Banjulian, a Gambian citizen, a Texan and indeed, a proud American with much to celebrate and appreciate about the American dream; that combined hard work and determination to conquer the universe may ultimately yield dividends beyond one’s imagination. Yes! For three centuries since the pilgrims landed on Plymouth, that precisely has been and remains the fascinating story of America—a miscellany of civilizations, a precious land of immigrants—be they exiles or refugees, academics or artists, purists or agnostics, students or sailors, garden boys or maids; that no matter what your station of life may have been, America is both redemptive and phenomenally transformative because in these United States, not only is there a latitude of freedoms but across the spectrum, in whatever endeavour of life, the sky is the limit!

Evidently, the subject of our Echo profile, Cherno Momodou Njie, is a glaring reflection of this American exceptionalism. Following his stellar performance in the West African Examinations Council 1977 GCE ‘O’ Levels at Banjul’s reputable St. Augustine’s High School, Njie climaxed to The Gambia High School, Sixth Form, graduating in 1979. Cherno briefly worked for the Standard Chartered Bank in Banjul and after three years as a young banker with all the prospects of a lucrative career, the young Njie left The Gambia some 30 years ago, to expand his intellectual horizons because the young West African state as he vividly remembers, was in the second decade of independence from British colonialism and a Gambian University was somewhat utopian for a young nation reeling from the vestiges of imperialism.

Determined as ever to conquer the world, Cherno, who was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, quickly matriculated to university, working hard and paying his tuition fees and ultimately graduating in Political Science and Economics from the prestigious University of Texas at Austin. In the intervening years, Njie like most international students and immigrants would diligently hone his entrepreneurial skills, as it were, adopting to America’s Protestant work ethic and mastering the complexities of the American way, becoming a resident and then citizen, many, many years ago. In what appears to be a seamless transition, Cherno seems to have combined his banking skills in Banjul with both the theoretical and practical frameworks of Economics he learnt from University to navigate the American business landscape with amazing success. But beyond and above skills, is Mr. Njie’s facile disposition, his willingness to adapt to Americanness, his impeccable character and integrity that mark the best out of this taciturn persona who talks less, loathes minutia and thinks big; big as this imposing edifice from his Chelsea Community Complex, one of four impressive communities, pictured here.

Today, Cherno Momodou Njie is an accomplished entrepreneur, a land developer who is the proud CEO and owner of dual multi-million dollar Austin-based companies: Songhai Development Company and its sister construction company, CMB Construction. In an exclusive interview withThe Gambia Echo, Njie tells this editor, that while he remains profoundly gracious to America and all the great people he encountered in this great country, he remains conscious of his African identity for which he names the company after that great African empire, Songhai. Believe it or not, this modest man who shies away from the limelight amid all his phenomenal achievements, employing hundreds of Americans, awarded various prestigious prizes in Texas, with a park named for his mother, is a shrewd businessman and like the Songhai Empire in precolonial Africa, the Songhai in Austin is an empire in its own right. In the past 10 years alone, Cherno has built four large modern housing complexes providing affordable housing to Americans and “despite the daunting challenges at the beginning” as he modestly likes to put it, “today we have registered remarkable progress”. With this profile of a Gambian success story, the culmination of one individual’s creative ingenuity The Gambia Echo presents Cherno Momodou Njie.

Below are recent press articles showcasing Cherno Njie’s laudable achievements for your attention and we urge all Gambians and friends of The Gambia to join us in celebrating this amazing feat of hard work and wish Mr. Njie and company the best of luck. Click on link below to read what the others say:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/frisco/headlines/20131115-grand-opening-held-for-affordable-housing-complex-in-frisco.ece

Company Press Release:

Songhai Development Expands Affordable Housing Options in Frisco Celebrates North Court Villas Opening, Now Fully Occupied with One Year Waiting List

FRISCO (November 13, 2013) – Songhai Development, an Austin-based multifamily housing development and consulting firm, will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Nov. 15 at 11a.m. to celebrate the opening of North Court Villas. North Court Villas is located at 8275 Stonebrook Parkway in Frisco north of State Highway 121 and west of Preston Road. The 134-unit garden-style community offers one, two and three bedrooms to residents who earn up to

60 percent of the area median income (for a family of four that is an annual income of $40,500). North Court Villas is also the newest property added to Frisco’s workforce housing base in nearly 20 years.

“In this economy, there is a huge market of families and seniors in need of quality, affordable housing. Our goal is to help meet this need by creating reasonably priced amenityrich communities,” said Cherno Njie, Songhai Development president. “The opening of North Court Villas is the culmination of a vision that holistically works with the community in the city of Frisco.”

The vision for North Court Villas dates back to 2008 when Dallas’ Inclusive Communities Partnership (ICP) approached the city of Frisco about the need for additional affordable housing options. Songhai Development competed and won a 2010 solicitation issued by the city of Frisco and ICP offering up to $2 million in subordinate loan financing to developers who utilize the 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit awarded by the Texas Department of Housing

and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to build housing in Frisco’s city limits. “By joining forces with ICP and TDHCA, North Court Villas is the right step in the

direction of true transformation that will ensure the city of Frisco is a thriving, sustainable community with affordable, workforce housing options,” said Njie.

Songhai Development completed construction of North Court Villas in August, and it reached full occupancy in one month. The property is managed by Capstone Real Estate Services, Inc. The average cost for a unit by size is as follows: one bedroom/one bath $330-

$725; two bedroom/two bath $395-$868 and three bedroom/two bath $456-$1003. “We were nearly leased up before the property was completely built,” said Nan Gamel, North Court Villas community manager. “Our inquiries about leasing and current residents are people looking for affordability, close proximity to jobs and recreation. Our residents range from recent college students just starting out on their own, to seniors downsizing to fit their

new lifestyle and divorced parents.” North Court Villas has a one year waiting list, a sign there continues to be a demand for

the type of housing solutions Songhai Development provides. In addition to North Court Villas, Songhai Development has three multifamily and senior housing communities in the Houston metro area. For more information visit www.northcourtvillas.com or www.songhaidevelopment.com.

ABOUT US

Founded In 2001 by Cherno Njie, Songhai Development, LLC, is an Austin-based multifamily housing development and consulting firm. The company specializes in leveraging public and private investments to develop affordable housing through the use of federal tax credits and private activity bonds. Songhai Development currently has four affordable housing communities in Texas for families and seniors. Three communities are located in the Houston metro area: Chelsea Senior Community, Langwick Senior Residences and Little York Villas. The newest development, North Court Villas recently opened in Frisco, approximately 20 miles north of Dallas.

Songhai Development offers its clients comprehensive housing services by leveraging the resources of its sister company CMB Construction, LLC. CMB Construction provides pre-construction, design-build, and construction management services to clients and owners in both the public and private sectors. We have a unique specialty in HUD, tax-credit and conventional construction as construction managers. We pride ourselves on building great things, whether they are built structures, communities or relationships with our clients and vendors.

Signed: Cherno M. Njie, CEO

 

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