In this episode we welcome Matt Difanis and Robert Morris. April is Fair Housing Month, as people know, and we gratefully, as an organization, are getting more education and more awareness on the need for us to be more systemic, and more attentive, in order to provide excellent care to all who come to us. Matt Difanis and Robert Morris have been instrumental at the national level with course materials, ethics reconsiderations, and other conversations that are helping us pay more attention. They teachboth the At Home with Diversity course and Bias Overide. They are grateful to be sharing these classes and this information with our members. In this episode, they share their stories on what has led them to be so committed to getting the message of Fair Housing out to others.
[1:40] Let me start by saying none of this was on my radar up until just a few years ago.
[2:00] I had the privilege of serving as the 2018 President of the Illinois REALTORS® and that meant I was on the leadership teams starting in 2016. And 2017, the year I was President-Elect, Illinois, like a lot of other associations, including NAR, was prepping for 50-year Fair Housing Act retrospectives and commemorative activities.
[2:20] As Illinois prepared, I got my first bit of exposure to the absolutely awful history of our industry's involvement in housing discrimination
[2:59] So, I went from unaware to aware, not just of our history of housing discrimination but also the hangover effect that still exists.
[5:09] And so when you look at people who make it through to leadershp, it's important to recognize, they've had to be the minority of the minority who were willing to just go find a battering ram and just find a way to break through it.
[5:28] And then, I had the opportunity after my time on the Illinois REALTORS® leadership team, I had the opportunity to serve as the 2020 President of the NAR Pro Standards Committee.
[5:46] We were doing things virtually. And George Floyd was murdered on viral video, and the country was on fire, and we had a proliferation of hate speech.
[6:04] Because of numerous requests made to them, President Vince Malta kicked over a request to my committee to look and see if there was a possible code of ethics solution.
[6:57] You don't get to be a REALTOR® and engage in bigoted hate speech anywhere.
[7:17] That led to the opportunity to do speaking and training. So, it's a genuine passion of mine.
[9:23] "Now mine's a little bit different. As you guys know, I consider myself, maybe it's just my opinion, a Southern Gentleman, and I have been reared in the South my entire life. And so, as an American who happens to be Black, living in the South, it has always been an adventure.
[10:28] So, my walk has been that way the whole time. I've gotten into this particular arena because I want to change hearts and minds.
[10:59] And the other part is the fear factor that has always been associated with things that are different, things that people don't necessarily understand.
[11:16] And so, my philosophy is that I meet people where they are because everybody's at a different stage, they've been exposed to different things, and depending on the culture that they've been reared in, depending on the influences that they've had.
[11:38] One of the things I talk about is how culture affects us and that if we were reared in a culture by people that trusted us or by people we trusted and we loved, and they taught us things, based on their point of reference.
[12:21] So I'd ask the question, "Why do you feel the way you feel about me if I have never done anything to you?"
[13:06] So how are you going to respond now, based on what that is? So I think that discovery is important.
[13:26] And my mission — and like Matt, I have been blessed to be exposed to tens of hundreds of people, to share thoughts with them.
[12:53] So, in that walk that I've had, now for probably 20 years — that has been the mission, that I want people to have a better understanding of all of us and where we are, and just understanding that we are all just human beings.
[14:41] I've never heard a person on a donor's list make that sort of request. They just want to live and we're more alike than we are different.
[15:33] And now you're talking about something that is even more near to you. I'll briefly share my story as well because I came into it very differently and my experience is more international.
[16:05] When I got older, I went to New York City, and then, ultimately, I went to live overseas, in another culture.
[16:38] I was looking around, looking at the way people were talking to me and treating me and the way they did things, and I said, "These people really do not view the world and think about things the same way I do.
[17:09] My mother was a Swedish immigrant. But the Swedish culture wasn't that different. It is kind of different from the Southern culture. But I'd always been in kind of a multicultural situation without realizing it. This really opened my eyes.
[19:44] I call myself a hobby sociologist because I find so much of this fascinating. But then there came a time when I became more involved.
[20:41] After seeing the memorial park in Tulsa,things opened up for me even more, and then, of course, the journey that Matt described about so many of the changes that happened in 2019 with the Newsday report (on housing discrimination).
[22:22] People need to be exposed to different stories, and different journeys, and when they are… just like me, to grow and then finally find a place to speak what I had learned.
[22:52] This journey has been fun in many respects. I feel very grateful to have had it. But isn't that the perspective that we all want to take, hopefully, when we go through something that's hard or different, that it changes us for the good?
[23:57] Monica stresses Robert's point about fear and his question, "Have I caused you to feel that way? Has anybody actually caused you to feel that way in a personal engagement?"
[24:36] People are not born prejudiced. In their formative years, they were taught it or observed it from the people that mattered the most to them.
[30:18] Robert teaches that the construct has been put together for those who were in authority and power. Robert talks about meeting people where they are. The Fair Housing Act covers everyone.
[34:10] They discuss equity and equality.
[49:11] Robert says we need to revisit constructs that are not equitable, and that involves changing hearts and minds.
[53:31] Robert explains the terms Black American and African American.
[58:04] Matt shares two favorite books.
[1:01:41] Matt's last words: Matt was very trepidatious about going into unfamiliar spaces where he was going to be the outlier. Most of White America don't take that opportunity. Matt invites you to seek out and enter unfamiliar spaces as a listener.
[1:02:56] Robert says, with Dr. King, I'd love to get to a place where I'm not judged by the color of my skin but by the content of my character. In America, if you work hard, you should be able to experience the American Dream.
"And then [I] looked at the lack of inclusion that I was oblivious to, but like in 2017, the Illinois REALTORS®Board of Directors, the whole board: 100% white and 68% male! Home to a city many of you have heard of, Chicago. We didn't look like the state at all!" — Matt
"It's not just about Black and White. There are a lot of different pieces to that puzzle." — Robert
"We need to be able to give people targeted resources to offset structural disadvantages that we collectively as an industry inflicted on large swaths of our population." — Matt
"As human beings, mindwise, you might say, ‘Yeah, it's bad, but I kind of like the gig I've got.' and … ‘I don't necessarily want to give up that.' That's human nature." — Robert
"We're not that much different. … All of the things that you would want in your family are what all families would want. And hopefully, we can find a way as we travel this journey that we can become closer and better in those respects." — Robert
About Robert Morris
Robert Morris has been actively involved in real estate sales and training since 1985. He recently received the Tennessee REALTORS® Educator of the year award for the second time and served as President of the Middle Tennessee Association of REALTORS® from 2020‒2021.
Robert graduated from the NAR Leadership Academy in 2022 and serves as a NAR Director from Tennessee REALTORS® for 2022‒2024. He has also been inducted into the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC) Hall of Fame for 2022. Robert is an international speaker, certified instructor, and professional development consultant on the Dynamic Directions, Inc. team and he is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of every person he meets.
About Matt Difanis
Matt considers himself the world's most improbable DEI and fair housing evangelist. Matt served as the 2018 President of the 50,000 member Illinois REALTORS® trade organization. During his four years on the state leadership team, he went from unaware of any of these issues to aware, then concerned, and eventually outraged. In the last few years, he has developed a reputation for building bridges to historically marginalized groups that have been impacted by housing discrimination — particularly the Black community.
Matt served as the 2020 Chair of the National Association of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee, which is charged with updating and interpreting the NAR Code of Ethics. During his time leading that group, he advanced a series of proposals that eventually became Standard of Practice 10-5 in the Code of Ethics — a ban on discriminatory hate speech by REALTORS®. That journey has landed Matt in the pages of The New York Times, in a Bloomberg Businessweek feature about housing discrimination, as a live guest on Bloomberg Quicktake, and as the exclusive guest for a full hour on the Tavis Smiley Show on KBLA in Los Angeles.
Matt is a full-time practitioner and multi-office broker-owner in Champaign, Illinois, where he leads a highly inclusive real estate team. On Sunday mornings, you can find him in the tech booth of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, a historically Black church, where he runs sound and the live stream, as well as doing volunteer photography.
Matt earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and his juris doctor from the University of Illinois.
- Visit Robert Morris on LinkedIn
- Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test
- Visit Matt Difanis's website: Mattdifanis.com
- Book: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
- Book: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
- Book: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee
- Fair Housing content on nar.realtor
- Visit Monica's website: FuntentionalLiving.com
- Visit Monica's blog: FranklinTNBlopg.com
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Email Monica
- Get Monica's book
- Center for REALTOR® Development
- Explore microcourses at learning.realtor Use the coupon code PODCAST to obtain 15% off the price of any online class.