On October 1, Nykea Pippion McGriff of Coldwell Banker Realty took office as the first ever Black woman president in the Chicago Association of REALTORS®’ 137-year history. This was a powerful and historic moment, as 60 years ago, the association would have blocked her membership. We chatted with Nykea about her real estate journey, her goals for 2021 and the song that inspires her most, “Rise Up.”
A south side native, no one ever talked to Nykea about the depth of impact she could have in real estate leadership. “I fell into my real estate career after many years of working in sales,” she said. “I sold cars, jewelry, shoes…just about everything except for insurance. I took my licensing class while on maternity leave after having my son Artie — and I never went back to corporate America. I was hooked.”
She spent the first 15 years of her career at Dream Town Realty, and recently joined Coldwell Banker Realty as the managing broker and vice president of brokerage services for their Lincoln Park, Gold Coast and West Loop offices. Along the way, she’s also served as a longtime trainer for MRED, teaching fellow REALTORS® how to master the MLS platform and tools to better execute their business.
But it wasn’t until she saw CAR past president Zeke Morris on the cover of Chicago REALTOR® Magazine that Nykea decided to get more deeply involved in the association.
“I took one look at Zeke on the cover and said, ‘he needs to know who I am,’” she said. “I started going to events and actually reading the association’s emails — I literally just started showing up. I joined the professional development advisory committee and the Sales Awards advisory group, and that’s how my volunteering began.”
At the time, CAR’s board had a noticeable lack of diversity (something that is no longer the case today, as you’ll see on page 14). “I’m all about doing the work,” she said. “So, when I saw the lack of representation in the association’s leadership, it inspired me to run for the board of directors. I didn’t think the board back then was representative of me or my clients. — and I’ve always believed that we must reflect the diversity that all of Chicago offers.”
This is a deep-seated belief that continues to drive her today. “As an association representing all of Chicago, we must also provide value and move the needle for the rest of Chicago, not just certain neighborhoods or demographics.”
What does that look like? One of Nykea’s goals is to expand CAR’s class offerings to better address the basics: how to build a business plan, how to budget, how to do your taxes and how to plan out your marketing, to start.
She’s also determined to replace herself as a leader. “As minorities in leadership positions, we can all get on a call and talk about our experiences – but a true leader is constantly searching for their replacement,” she said. “Right now, our association is the example in the REALTOR® world of what a diverse board should look like. We have a duty to maintain this — we need to ensure our members are aware of the committee and leadership opportunities here, throughout the state and at the national level, and help them along the way.”
Her plan to ensure this happens is to create a leadership hub, with opportunities and training available for anyone who’s interested. It’s one way she sees we can better and more proactively identify, encourage, mentor and nurture talent of all kinds. “I am the first Black woman president, taking office in a city that still feels the impacts of segregation,” she said. “I don’t take that responsibility lightly. This year I have the honor of leading an officer team made up of all women, and I’m laser focused that it should not take another 136 years to replace me. I got here by accident. I reached out to say I want to get involved and I started doing the work. We need to be more intentional and have a plan in place for diverse leadership to continue. This will make us a stronger association, a stronger industry and a stronger REALTOR® community.”
Another area in which Nykea has a distinct focus is the association’s advocacy work, having served as the Federal Political Coordinator (FPC) to Congressman Bobby Rush for a number of years. “I’ve built that relationship from the ground up,” she said. “FPCs are unpaid volunteers — we are the conduit between legislation that impacts property owners and the REALTOR® community. I went to the Legislativemeetings in Washington DC by myself, on my own dime, in 2013. That’s the place that I really started to understand what our advocacy does — both for our members, and our clients. Being an FPC is a job that I love and it’s imperative to our REALTOR® family.”
Doing the work — that exemplifies Nykea to a T. It’s a work ethic honed during her extensive volunteer service with the Women’s Council of REALTORS®. “I call them the Navy Seals of volunteerism in how well they prepared me,” she said. But there’s another person, closer to home, who’s been integral to her journey thus far, as well: her oldest son, Xavier, who was murdered in 2017.
In one of their last conversations, he convinced her to run for treasurer of the association. “The first time I ran, I lost,” she said. “Xavier refused to let me make excuses and quit. He challenged me to use my voice and to run again.”
“He was a servant leader and an example of how to use your talents to help others succeed,” she said. “He was a teacher and a mentor, and he was deeply invested in helping kids reach their potential — no matter where you’re from.” Following Xavier’s death, she established the Xavier O. Joy Scholarship in his honor to help other young Black men reach their potential at Morehouse College.
Xavier, Nykea and her youngest son Artie are deeply linked through music. “The music bond that we share has kept me going; music has been such a connector for me and my sons,” she said. “One of the songs that has helped me get through Xavier’s loss is Andra Day’s anthem, ‘Rise Up.’ It’s a reminder to me of the biggest lesson I’ve learned — both from the heartbreaks I’ve experienced as a mother, and as a leader in our industry: we have to rise up. My son Artie has autism, but he also demonstrates the importance of rising up every day — we rise up together.”
They also travel together, enjoying adventures both near and far, from Disney World to Greece.
Her deep relationship with her sons and her love of music is completely intertwined with and reflective of the highs and lows of her career. “We have to keep in mind that there’s more to real estate than just the transaction,” she said. “Find where your gift is, dig deep and dive in. The more you give of yourself to our industry and our advocacy work, you will get that back tenfold. I challenge you to get involved, to step up. We have to rise above whatever challenges we face — in real estate, in our communities, and in our personal lives. We have to come together and rise above these tough times. We owe it to ourselves and to our communities to be better, to get better and to do better. We all have a gift we need to give to the world — so I challenge each of you to figure out where you can make an impact.”