If you don’t already know Aleem Griffiths, you probably at least know him as the junior with the awesome headband and huge smile who you’ve seen DJ a few parties. Next time you see him, introduce yourself and ask for his card—he’s too cool to explain on paper.
What is most impressive about Griffiths, however, is that he juggles many different commitments, has inspirational goals for the future, and is simultaneously unaware of just how much of an impact he makes on everyone around him, especially on campus.
So where did this all start? Griffiths was raised in the South Bronx, noting that one of the biggest parts of his life growing up was his and his brothers’ passion for chess. He says that playing chess “[kept him] around the right people” and, in some ways, saved him.
As Griffiths got older, his plans for his own future were further shaped by his experiences. Between his sophomore and junior years of high school, he participated in a program called BuildOn, in which he traveled to small, underdeveloped villages in Mali and Nicaragua to assist in building schools. Here, Griffiths gained a ton of perspective, noting to us that “no matter how bad it gets, there’s always someone who has it worse,” leading to his personal life goal: to become a billionaire philanthropist, and give back to communities in need.
So then what? Griffiths ended up at the University without even a visit to campus, but it didn’t take long for Griffiths to build himself an identity at Rochester, then as a prominent member of Douglass Leadership House (DLH), a dedicated member of Event Support, a Digital Media Studies major, a photographer, a YouTuber, and, most notably, as a DJ.
At the end of his freshman fall semester, Griffiths met a graduating senior DJ looking for a replacement.
“I never even thought about being a DJ. I came to campus broke, and didn’t have the tech,” Griffiths said.
But Griffiths never let this get in the way of putting in the hard work.
“I learned from everyone. I watched others. I went to parties and made lists on the songs that others put out. While everyone was partying, I was learning.”
His hard work would soon become his passion.
“I take my DJ-ing very seriously,” Griffiths said. “These are people’s moments that I’m making, and I have a responsibility to make those moments incredible.”
He also joined the DLH. Griffiths first encountered the organization during a demonstration organized by DLH and Black Student Union (BSU) in Wilson Commons in 2013, following racially-charged incidents on campus. He was inspired by the amount of power and passion these students displayed, remarking that he hadn’t seen that type of power on campus until then.
With this, Griffiths decided to become a general member of DLH and move into the house. Quickly, he became a leader, first serving as the organization’s historian, where he both grew as a member of DLH grew his passion for photography.
It didn’t take long before former DLH President Charlisa Goodlet asked him at the end of his sophomore year to run for vice president. As a leader in the house and around campus, he shared what he called “the rollercoaster” of emotional experiences he went through as a member of the organization.
“The campus reaction to our organization living in that house was harsh. I remember, my sophomore year, I felt like I was a walking target. If you’re black and you’re on the frat quad, people assume you’re headed to DLH,” he said.
However, he’s found solace in the many positive moments and the realization that DLH is a place which truly brings people together.
“What has happened on campus has made the bond between our members stronger,” he said, also noting that multiple students from different corners of campus recently used the space to plan a peaceful demonstration.
As he looks toward the rest of college and graduation, Griffiths keeps his main goal in mind: to become a millionaire by age 27, and a billionaire by age 35. With this, he plans to give back to his community and other communities in need.
“My elementary school no longer has a chess program,” he said. “I believe this needs to exist, and that art needs to exist in schools. So I want to go back, give back, and maybe also beautify my old neighborhood.”
Lastly, Griffiths notes that the best piece of advice he’s ever received was from Office of Minority Student Affairs’ own Thomas Crews: “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.”
If you know a student you’d like to see spotlighted in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.