by CRAIG COLEY
Fifteen years ago, Don Griffin Jr. had a thriving real estate brokerage but was disillusioned with the business. He stopped advertising, closed his office, and planned to become a chaplain. Then he made a resolution that would change everything. “I decided I would just work with people I like, and it’s not going to be about money but about helping people get to the next chapter in their lives,” Griffin says. “And it was funny. People started coming to me more.”
The 49-year-old grew up in Bloomington, where his father attended Indiana University and became the city’s second African American police officer. Griffin Jr. grew up loving art, playing the saxophone, and singing. He attended Hampton University in Virginia, a historically black college where he found his self-identity. “It made me not ashamed to be who I was,” Griffin says. “I didn’t have to act like anybody else to be black. I could be me, and an individual, and be African American, too.”
But three-and-a-half years into a five-year architecture degree, tuition funds dried up and Griffin returned to Bloomington to earn money. Several real estate companies told him he was too young to sell houses. One gave him a chance.
“I think it was four months before I got my first sale, but then it kind of exploded,” Griffin says. After eight years with Sabbagh Pickens Real Estate and two-and-a-half years as a RE/MAX franchisee, he opened Griffin Realty in 2003.
He met his wife, Nicole, at a hot air balloon race on the IU campus when they were 4. They were friends all through school and married in 1996. Nicole directs the IU Visitor Information Center. Their son, Dexter, 18, is a freshman in the IU Jacobs School of Music, where he sings opera. Griffin still enjoys art and music—particularly James Taylor, Pat Metheny, and Steely Dan—and also loves cars: he owns four Mini Coopers.
When he changed his attitude toward work 15 years ago, Griffin also became more open about his political views. Active with the NAACP, in 2016 he started the Monroe County Black Democratic Caucus. He and Nicole are involved in various civic groups, and they created the annual City of Bloomington Black History Month Living Legend Award. “I want to be always reinventing myself,” Griffin says.