As an immigrant from Ethiopia, Washington, D.C., businessman Yimaj “Steve” Kalifa is living the American Dream, having built a personal wealth estimated at $100 million. Now at a time when COVID-19 has struck nearly 38,000 residents of the District and killed more than 900, Kalifa is paying back to the community that helped him build his fortune.
At the urging of a friend with connections to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office, one of Kalifa’s companies, Capital Medical Supply Inc., donated 30,000 pieces of personal protection equipment to a Howard University virus testing center.
The friend was Armstrong Williams, political commentator and chief executive officer of Howard Stirk Holdings.
“It’s really sad what’s going on, so I really wanted to do something for the community that’s given so much to me,” said Kalifa, 53. “So, Armstrong called me and said, ‘Let’s buy these masks.’ He reached out to the city, which reached out to Howard’s Unity Clinic, and that’s how it happened.”
With a $1 million grant awarded in 2020, Howard University launched a testing site in the impoverished neighborhood of Benning Road Northeast, whose residents are disproportionately affected by pre-existing health conditions that make them susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
The site, which offers free testing four days a week to walk-ins, was impacted by a citywide shortage of personal protective equipment.
“The donation was very helpful at a time when the use of masks was critical to helping to curb the spread of the virus, especially in the minority community,” said Hugh E. Mighty, M.D., dean of the Howard University College of Medicine and vice president for clinical affairs. “We are grateful to Mr. Kalifa and Mr. Williams for their generous donations and support of the community.”
The site is now providing COVID-19 vaccinations, and will extend the program as more vaccine doses become available, Mighty said. Citywide, 83,125 doses have been delivered, with 62,219 administered as of the end of January, according to a monthly COVID-19 situational report released by Bowser’s office.
An additional 10,975 doses are expected to be delivered this week.
Although he incurred a personal cost of about $100,000, Kalifa said it was Williams’ connection to the mayor that made the personal protective equipment donation possible.
“I don’t have her cellphone number; he does,” Kalifa said. “So, he definitely gets credit for that.”
Building his empire
A self-described serial entrepreneur, Kalifa entered the business world in 2006, traveling to more than 20 states opening branches of a home health care company owned by three doctors and based in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
“On one trip, I went to Allentown, Pennsylvania, when the property owner offered to sell me the whole building for $30,000,” Kalifa said. “Coming from LA, that was a great price. That was the first property I purchased. But, from that point, in every state that I purchased a property, I leased it back to the three doctors. It was a lot of work starting out on my own, but that was the start of Capital View General Construction Inc.”
CVGC (doing business as Mitchell Heating and Cooling) is now a multimillion-dollar company specializing in commercial construction, road construction, residential construction and renovation projects in Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.
CVGC and Mechanical Solutions Inc., a Denver-based heating, ventilation and air conditioning company, make up the bulk of Kalifa’s business portfolio. He also operates Capitol Medical Supply Inc., a durable medical equipment company in the District, and Source Cuisine, which, in 2019, outbid the former owner of Taylor Gourmet in a bankruptcy auction to reopen four locations of the popular D.C. sandwich shop.
Williams, 59, a black conservative commentator and owner of several television stations through his company, is known for a brand of rhetoric that often runs counter to voices on the American left. He met Kalifa about 10 years ago at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner. He acknowledges that he and Kalifa agree on little besides a mutual interest in building their respective business holdings.
“We have opposing views, but we have a civil discourse,” said Williams. “We agree on business, and we learn from each other. But, if everybody agreed with everybody, somebody’s not necessary.
“My first impression on meeting Steve was that he is very free, he’s truly free. We can agree on legal, moral and ethical things; I respect that. He’s built the $100 million health care and real estate portfolio around the world that he always wanted to. Steve’s a great guy; he’s my brother.”
(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)
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