Darryl Griffin

Planting the Seed of Family Legacy for Generations to Come

Darryl Griffin and four family members posing together outside for a selfieDarryl Griffin grew up in a large, tight-knit family in inner city Chicago. Aunts and uncles were like parents, cousins more like siblings, neighbors were friends. Darryl was surrounded by love, but he also grew up watching many of those around him struggle with their health and suffer in silence. In both his family and his community, health or death were rarely discussed, "even though the two are critically related," he says. Multiple friends and family members dealt with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but seemed to lack the medical access and resources to tackle their health problems and mindfully plan for the future. "When you're faced with that day-to-day struggle for survival," Darryl says of the often difficult conditions in his neighborhood, "it's hard to be very forward thinking."

But Darryl was thinking of the future, and soon he was the very first of his close group of cousins leaving their neighborhood and setting off to college. It was as a young freshman at Vanderbilt University that he attended a community service course, taught by legendary basketball coach, Ed Martin. The inspiring course led to volunteer work at an on-campus school for underprivileged children. Growing up in urban Chicago, Darryl had seen his fair share of disadvantage, but this particular experience was eye opening. "I thought I was doing bad, and then I see this," he explains. "I just thought, wow, I'm seeing someone who is more underserved than me. I want to be part of affecting change. For kids like this, and for communities like this." And thus, a servant's heart was born and a legacy started taking shape.

After college, Darryl began his career in nonprofit work, drawn to organizations that raise health awareness and meet the needs of communities, particularly underserved ones. He joined the American Heart Association as an Executive Director in 2013, just a year after the sudden loss of an uncle to cardiac arrest. At that time, he had no idea how much more personal his connection to the AHA would become.

In the years that followed, Darryl witnessed multiple younger cousins suffer strokes, and lost his grandfather and grandmother to a massive stroke and heart failure from complications with diabetes, respectively. Then two years ago another devastating blow came in the form of a frantic and noisy early-morning phone call where he deciphered through tears that his cousin had died from sudden cardiac arrest. His beloved cousin JR, who had always felt more like a brother, had just celebrated his 40th birthday weeks prior and now he was gone. And Darryl wanted to talk about it.

His heartbreak fueled a renewed passion for raising awareness about heart disease and stroke, particularly in communities of color that are disproportionately affected. He wanted people to start having the tough conversations about their health and what they would like to see happen upon their death. He realized he could help change the narrative that these conversations don't have to be uncomfortable and taboo, and he started with his own family. "I realized I could be an influence not just in word, but in deed -- literally." He let his family know of the gift to the AHA he had written into his will and encouraged them to consider the same.

"Being an example for my children and for my family is very important, to spark that flame in them, but also to recognize the organization that has been really critical to me in so many different ways. I'm having the conversation with my children because it's planting that seed of legacy and continued impact, the fact that you can do something very positive in life and in death."

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