People in Your Neighborhood: La Jollan integrates real estate, race and relationships to make an impact

La Jolla resident Dustin Sutton established the Black Commercial Real Estate Network.
(Provided by Dustin Sutton)

Dustin Sutton formed a group to help other Black people in commercial real estate and is involved in mentoring and advocating for children.


“My goal is to help people achieve their goals,” La Jolla resident Dustin Sutton says. In service of that goal, Sutton became a real estate broker and then formed a group to help Black people in commercial real estate help one another.

The Philadelphia native moved to La Jolla after college, not knowing what he wanted to do other than “figure it out by the beach,” he said.

The first time he felt truly connected to the community was as an assistant varsity basketball coach for La Jolla High School in 2007.

He later became a real estate broker, working for others in residential leasing and sales. Then he developed an interest in commercial real estate, pursued the requisite certifications and started his own commercial real estate firm.

He said Sutton Real Estate Advisors enables him to use all his talents without requiring him to be behind a desk all day. “It’s more in line with who I see myself being,” he said.

Sutton, who is of mixed race, said he thought he would meet other Black people in the industry “and I just never did.”

“There’s a lack of diversity in commercial real estate,” he said. “Coming from Philadelphia and having that diversity [and] coming here, there’s just none. It always bothered me.”

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, Sutton felt “I have to do something” to make an impact, he said.

Sutton established a group on LinkedIn called the Black Commercial Real Estate Network and later developed a website,

“Being able to be with people that understand what it’s like to be the only [Black person] in the room and being able to have a safe space to talk about that, where people actually understand what you’re saying … is empowering.”

— Dustin Sutton

BCREN started as a group of 20 people throughout Southern California who connected via Zoom and other virtual platforms. But it grew quickly to include people around the nation.

A person in Texas “brought like 30 people. Then we were at 60. Then we’re at 100. And now it’s been almost three years [and] we have over 800 members across the country,” Sutton said.

The group — which is free to join — helps members connect by helping one another personally and professionally, both online and in person at industry conferences.

“Being able to be with people that understand what it’s like to be the only [Black person] in the room and being able to have a safe space to talk about that, where people actually understand what you’re saying … is empowering,” Sutton said.

“It’s motivating to see the intentions of other people as well. What I’ve gained from it is, if you just start doing it … people are more likely to come help you.”

“It’s not just opening the door for people,” Sutton added. “You’ve got to shine a light on the door. You’ve got to hold it open. And then once people are in the door, you also have to hold them up and shine the light on them so other people can see them” and follow.

Starting BCREN has given him the confidence to “step outside my comfort zone” and try new things, like helping a tech company build a commercial real estate line, Sutton said.

His penchant for trying new things and his yearning for connection isn’t new. Several years ago it led him to volunteer with an organization that placed him playing basketball with children at the Polinksy Children’s Center, a facility in San Diego that temporarily shelters children who must be separated from their families due to abuse or other safety concerns.

“It was so much fun,” Sutton said. “The kids were so happy to be [playing there]. … I started to understand more about why they were there and what the situation was and I [thought] if me just coming here and playing basketball with them can make them that happy, and it made me happy, why wouldn’t I do that?”

He sought other volunteer experiences, becoming a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, trained to support youths in foster care.

“That was extremely rewarding,” Sutton said. “It doesn’t take much to make a big impact. … Once I realized that, it makes you want to do more.”

Sutton, who is married and has two kids in La Jolla schools, later became a mentor for nonprofit group Promises2Kids and also is on the board of the San Diego Center For Children.

All of Sutton’s passions — commercial real estate, BCREN and mentoring and advocating for children — stem from his belief that “it feels good to help people.”

He said he often encounters people who feel they have to wait until they reach a certain income level or status to contribute to others.

“You don’t have to wait,” Sutton said. “It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours a month to make an impact.”

Anytime he doesn’t know what to do in a situation, he follows his own advice to “just help.”

“Do something positive,” he said. “It’s life magic.”

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