Venus rising

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Venus Morris Griffin’s story of triumph from adversity goes viral, inspires multitudes.

When Venus Morris Griffin was in the deepest pit of darkness, she made a pact. If God helped her get out, she would share her story, no matter how humiliating, in hope of helping others. God followed through, and now Griffin has, too.

One of Augusta’s top-selling real estate agents, Griffin began sharing her harrowing life story through online real estate training sessions, then transitioned to speaking at national real estate conferences, packing halls to standing room only. Next came podcast interviews, which is how Brandon Stanton heard her story. Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York (HONY), the popular photoblog started in 2010 on Instagram and Facebook that has amassed nearly 12 million followers, produced three anthologies, and, most recently, a memoir. On March 3, HONY ran a 13-part story on Griffin that promptly went viral.

“What (Stanton) did for me, how carefully he handled my story, how respectful he was, and the exposure gained from sharing it on his platform — it was humbling, wonderful and embarrassing all in the same breath,” said Griffin. “There were millions of likes. People called me a good mom. They said I inspired them. The fight I made for my children, pushing through the pain, it was all worth it. For the first time in my life, I felt validated.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

‘Everyone loved him’

Griffin’s nightmare began in 2011 when, while nursing her baby daughter late one night, she received a phone call.

Venus, you don’t know me, but I’m calling to tell you what an awful man your husband is.

Within an hour, Griffin met with the caller, a young woman, in a hotel room behind a Denny’s. According to Griffin, the woman divulged details of her affair with Griffin’s husband, John Evangle “Tripp” Morris III, and said he turned menacing when she threatened to tell his wife. The woman was afraid, but also, it seemed, in love.

“On my way to meet with her, I imagined a heated confrontation and hating her because she took my family from me,” said Griffin, 50. “But when I looked into her eyes, all I felt was compassion, connection. I saw me, someone who hadn’t gotten away from their demons, and I wanted to help her. I forgave her instantly. I kept thinking, what has happened in your life?”

Griffin understood demons and the desperate desire to escape them. She grew up in a roach-infested trailer with a mom who battled drug addiction and cycled in and out of rehab centers. It was not until Griffin became an adult that she realized some moms make breakfast for their children.

“My first memory is watching my mother’s fingernails,” Griffin recalled in her HONY feature. “My stepfather would make me sit beside the couch and watch them. If they turned blue, I was supposed to call 911.”

Griffin navigated her traumatic childhood by hiding her life from others. Friends weren’t invited over for fear they’d see the roaches scatter, the pill bottles littering the floor or learn her mom had attempted suicide by sticking her head in the toilet.

Griffin changed high schools six times. When she was invited to prom, she was surprised and elated. While fixing her hair for the big night, her mom told Griffin: You will never be as pretty as me. Then she stuck her fingers in her daughter’s perfectly coiffed hair and messed it up.

“I could have let her win,” said Griffin. “I could have cried, but I wasn’t going to let her take that night from me. I quickly fixed my hair and walked out the door. I wasn’t going to let her ruin my life.”

When Griffin graduated high school, she got two loans and worked two jobs in order to earn her political science degree at the University of South Carolina. That’s where she met and fell in love with Morris.

“It’s complicated even now,” said Griffin. “If I could turn back the clock and change things to how I thought they were, how I thought they would be, I would. I genuinely loved him.”

There was much to love about the tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed young man. Morris was gregarious, the focus of every crowd he encountered. He was a big man on campus — a college cheerleader and president of his fraternity. When he visited Griffin’s family at Christmastime, he dressed as Santa and handed out toys to the kids. Everyone loved him.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

‘Forgiving him was key’

After college, Morris and Griffin moved to Augusta, Morris’ hometown. They married and welcomed six children. Morris was unable to reproduce, so they relied on a sperm donor, the same one, for each child. Together, Morris and Griffin served as PTA presidents. Morris led their Wednesday night Bible study and coached their son’s baseball team. As Griffin said in HONY, he was 90% good. The other 10% was terrifying.

“The children adored him, but, like me, they were a little scared of him,” said Griffin. “There was one time we were at our son John’s baseball game and the umpire made a bad call. Tripp started screaming so bad that the police escorted him off the field. There was always that side of him. When his temper would flare, it would flare. He was big on calling me names. And he’d get in my face.”

Griffin said Morris’ mood swings worsened over the years. Ten years into their marriage, he pushed her into a bathtub. Another time, Griffin screamed for her oldest son to call 911. Morris had pinned her to a bed and threatened to snap her neck.

After Griffin confronted Morris about his affair, he confessed, admitting to a sex addiction and checked into a rehab facility. While he was away, Griffin learned the whole truth.

“One of my daughters came to me and told me a story about her father. It was the worst thing it could possibly be,” Griffin confided to HONY. “It wasn’t just prostitutes. It was inside the home.”

Griffin hired a polygraph technician to administer a lie detector test to Morris. Afterward, the technician told Griffin she’d be an unfit mother if she let Morris come home.

Morris was arrested, convicted of aggravated child molestation and is serving sentences of 20 years and 25 years at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville.

“I’ll never forget coming home from the courthouse after Tripp was convicted,” said Griffin. “I sat my six children down. I told them, ‘The first thing we’re going to do is forgive your dad. We will never talk bad about him.’ Forgiving him was key. If you forgive people, you can move forward and see life differently. I knew if I could forgive him, my kids would follow.”

Rebuilding their lives didn’t come as easily, especially with the discovery that Morris had depleted the family’s finances and incurred a lot of debt.

“There were days when I just wanted to die. I didn’t know how I could support my children. How would I meet all their physical and emotional needs? How would I pay off Tripp’s credit card debt?” Griffin recalled. “I felt shamed by my community and church friends. But if I lay my cross down, my six kids would have to carry it. I will die trying before I quit.”

The day after Morris’ conviction, Griffin woke at 5 a.m. and ran five miles, as she still does every morning. And for the first year, she took all six kids with her to mass before school every day.

“The kids didn’t like it and neither did I, but it was our only option,” said Griffin. “We needed help. Looking back, it was my saving grace. It was stressful getting the kids there, but I’d hear something from the priest to get me through the day, to give me strength. I’m not a holy roller, but I’m a person of faith who believes nothing happens by chance. My life is proof of it. If you live long enough, you’ll go through hard stuff. How will you let it define you?”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

‘I could be happy in a trailer’

Prior to Morris’ conviction, Griffin’s only work experience was as a waitress and nanny. While Griffin was in the hospital recovering from the birth of their sixth child, Morris told her she should get a job, so she did. She took online courses to earn her real estate license. When Morris went to prison, she turned to real estate full time. Griffin’s oldest son, John, watched the younger kids after school, allowing Griffin to work up to 70 hours a week. But she was always home for dinner.

“Every time I made a sale, I’d use the commission to pay off a little more of our debt,” said Griffin. “That first year, I made $100,000. By my seventh year, I was grossing over $1 million.”

Currently in the midst of a divorce from her second husband, with whom she had her seventh child, Griffin is now vice president of Meybohm Real Estate, the same brokerage firm she started with a decade ago. And she is enjoying the spoils of a successful career.

When Morris left, Griffin and her six children were living in a two-bedroom home. Now they reside in a 7,000-square-foot home with eight bedrooms, a pool and a two-bedroom guest house. Recently, Griffin purchased a $1.2 million beach house in St. Simons Island. Her down payment was $1 million.

“I know at any moment I could lose it all. Money doesn’t define me,” said Griffin. “I could be happy in a trailer as long as I have my kids. I’ve developed a lot of wealth in real estate, and I’ve worked with clients who have millions. Some are happy, some are not. Money is good and it can be fun, but it’s the sit-down dinners that sustain you.”

‘I wanted to give people hope’

Griffin never forgot the deal she made with God. She knew she had to become successful in the business world before she could have a platform to help others. It was around her seventh year of real estate when she felt an urge to share her story.

The speaking engagements she booked through the real-estate world were lauded and led the way to events nationwide. Though she’s told her story many times, she is not immune to the horror of it all. Pain rests right beneath her tenacious exterior. To protect herself and, most importantly, her children, Griffin limits her interviews and holds tight to certain details.

She’s currently working on her biography with writer Kimberly Houk and has been a guest on multiple podcasts, which was the catalyst to her newfound HONY fame.

“My wife heard Venus on a fertility podcast,” said Stanton, who moved from New York back to Georgia, his home state, during the pandemic. “She was talking about her large family, which was conceived through a sperm donor, then went on a tangent about her life story. My wife said I had to hear it. I listened and messaged her right after.”

Stanton spent around 15 hours interviewing and photographing Griffin for her HONY feature. He released her series on March 3, posting one chapter per hour throughout the day. His readers were enraptured — liking, commenting, begging Stanton to post the next chapter quicker.

“I expected Venus’ story to be well-received, but it exceeded expectations even for me,” said Stanton. “I love all my stories, but I never know when a story is really going to connect, when the audience is going to latch on. With Venus, the audience came along for the entire journey.”

Every Mother’s Day, Griffin receives a card from Morris. In it he tells her she was the best wife, an amazing mom. Once a year, Griffin sends him family photos and a long letter to update him on the children’s lives. Her friends don’t understand why she does it.

“I treat him how I’d want someone to treat me if I were in prison and never going to see my kids again,” said Griffin. “He’s serving a tremendous sentence, and I know I don’t have to do anything. I try to remember, and I remind my kids, that he has a mental illness. As a Christian, I believe it doesn’t hurt to treat him like a human being.”

Griffin has no plans to slow down with real estate. She could retire now and be set for life, but she continues to work and grind. One of her greatest goals is to put all her children through college debt free. She also hopes to continue sharing her testimony to help others, especially women.

“I feel like I’ve fulfilled my end of the bargain with God,” said Griffin. “I wanted to give people hope, inspiration, motivation, to show them that if I could do it, so can they. I’ve received messages from people across the world, telling me they’d contemplated suicide, but my story gave them hope. Good came from the bad. I achieved my goal.”

But she doesn’t let it go to her head.

“I’m not perfect. Don’t paint me out to be,” she said. “Everyone has a story. Mine is horrific, but my pain is no different from the prostitute’s or the next person’s. I’m no one special, please put that in bold letters. I’m a mother. I just want to sit down and have dinner with my kids every night.”

And in the mornings, she will make her children breakfast: biscuits, bacon and eggs.