Black History Month gives Illinois REALTORS® President Zeke Morris a special opportunity to emphasize that everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve the American Dream of homeownership.

In today’s Illinois REALTORS® podcast, Morris discusses the national and cultural recognition that occurs in February, and he urges members to continue the fight to help prospective Black homeowners year-round and to nurture the development of Black REALTORS®.

Listen to his advice for industry newcomers, discover two books he recommends and find out about a few of the Black heroes in his life.

Full Transcript:

Jeremy Goeckner: Hello, and welcome to the IR weekly podcast, keeping you up to date with all the latest news in the REALTOR® world. I’m Jeremy Goeckner. And on today’s episode, we are honored to welcome the 2022 Illinois REALTORS® President Zeke Morris. Zeke was inaugurated at our 2021 Fall Business Meetings in Naperville and has the distinction of being the first African American president in the association’s history. It is always a treat to talk to Zeke as he’s a wonderful storyteller, and it’s especially prescient talking to him now, as we embark on Black History Month in February. All right. And so, we want to welcome, uh, Zeke Morris, the president 2022 president of Illinois REALTORS® here to IR weekly. Thank you so much Zeke for taking some time to talk with us today.

Zeke Morris: Jeremy, thank you for having me and taking the time to look at what we’re talking about, which is so very important—the American Dream.

Jeremy Goeckner: Yes, absolutely. So, we’re going to get to a lot of things here. We are so excited to have you on. Anybody who’s talked to you, knows what a joy it is to talk to you. So now we’re just going to take it to the masses here. Before we do that and in case anybody doesn’t know, you are our 2022 president, but let’s just give them a little 90,000-foot view of Zeke Morris here. What was it about real estate that got you involved and got you to the point where you’re at?

Zeke Morris: Well, I’ve been involved in real estate for almost 30 years. And what got me involved is I purchased my first condo and I wanted to be able to understand that process. So, I got a real estate license when I purchased a condo and I wanted to also learn how to manage the condo on behalf of the association. That process kind of kicked me off and I sold my first home in 1996 and thought it was one of those things that should be easy. My first one I sold, I think, in 10 days. It was a north side condo that I sold for a resident who was buying into a new development that I was working on. When I sold that home, I was like, wow, this real estate thing isn’t that hard. And because it was, I took care of it. The closing went very smoothly.

And then the second home that I was trying to sell was a two-bedroom townhouse. And so, I went from a two-bedroom condo to a two-bedroom townhouse, and there’s a difference—a huge, huge difference. I wound up selling it, but it took me probably almost 120 days to get an offer on it. And at that point, it kind of let me know that each deal is different. And so here I am today, I got the bug. Once I started selling real estate, I got the bug for leadership and you know, that came from a few folks. One person that I would say is Frank Williams, who was one of my mentors and he made sure that I understood the value of being in leadership. Another person was John Vranas. I remember I was serving on the property management committee, and he provided me with some assistance in terms of some things that I needed for the property management department.

Zeke Morris: He gave of himself freely without me having to ask; he made sure that I had the information. He then encouraged me that’s what leadership is about. So, those are the two folks that I—I have hundreds of folks who have mentored and encouraged me along the way—but those are just two stories I wanted to (share). I always have to mention Frank because, you know he’s the godfather of real estate. From time to time, we forget that it’s a journey. And so, I want to make sure that people know that you don’t get there by yourself.

Jeremy Goeckner: Absolutely. And of course, Frank made a fantastic appearance at your Inaugural Gala up at the Fall Business Meetings in Naperville. Such a memorable time. I got to meet him there too; such a wonderful human being so that was great. Thank you for that view of your life. Let’s start drilling down into it here. This year your theme as president is Everyone Deserves the American Dream. If you wouldn’t mind, can you share with us what does the American dream mean to you personally, Ezekiel Morris?

Zeke Morris: Well, I mean, the first thing is if you look at the American Dream, I feel like I’m living the American Dream. My wife and I and my family are beneficiaries of opportunities to provide it for us in terms of our parents, my friends and my colleagues. What I mean by that is, as we go through life, one of the things that we think about is how do you have opportunity to build wealth? And through the American Dream is the one way to do that. And so, what does that mean for me? I have been able to create wealth not so much for my children, but I am looking to be able to do that for my children’s children.

Zeke Morris: I grew up—as most folks don’t know or do know—I grew up poor and I didn’t realize I was poor until I went to college. So, I was able to graduate and get to a point where I was able to purchase real estate with basically based upon the money that I and my wife had been able to save. We moved on from there. In return, I want others to have that same, which is homeownership. And so, in this coming year, I want everybody— all of our 50,000 members—to help us make the dream of homeownership a reality for everyone of all income levels, races and genders.

Jeremy Goeckner: Well, we can all get behind that. It’s a great time to get you on the podcast being the first African American president of the association, especially as we are now in the midst of Black History Month. This past week on our podcast we did kind of an amalgamation of a couple of different interviews with some people. And one of the things that stood out to me when we were doing those was Darrell Powell-Lee, when he was describing the history of African Americans in real estate, when he said, “if this is a race, we basically started like 20 minutes after everyone else.” And that just made such an impression on me, just the way that it never gets talked about a lot in terms of real estate specifically. As we are here in the midst of Black History Month, let’s get to know you a little bit more personally on this as well. Are there things that you like to do during February during Black History Month to celebrate?

Zeke Morris: I think that February is the month that we traditionally celebrated, but in all honesty, black history is 365. It happens every day. We take that time to highlight it as a culture and as a nation, but black history actually occurs every day. And I think that what we do in our daily lives is really about black history. What do I want to do? When my children were young, we took that time to educate them on the expectations of the culture, making sure that you are moving in a different direction or moving to leave things better than when you got here. That’s the most enjoyable thing that we want to do with ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.

Jeremy Goeckner: You know another thing that was very constant in that podcast was a lot of people saying—I think it was Darrell Powell-Lee who said our history doesn’t fit in a month. It fits all year round. Our history is American history. That was another thing there. You already mentioned some of your personal mentors, but during this month are there any African American prominent leaders of the past that, or even the present, that you look to as inspirations in your leadership role?

Zeke Morris: I’m glad you asked that question. I have a picture on my wall and it’s a picture that reflects Malcolm X, President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those are three folks that have three different approaches to life, but they are three people that I look up to in terms of being change makers. Those are the kinds of folks that I look at. We can go back in our history. I remember the day that Harold Washington became the first African American mayor of Chicago. There are so many things out there that help you to understand the importance of who we are. We could talk day in and day out regarding who do I look up to? There are just so many who came before me and the person that I always go back to is Frank Williams. He gives you the inspiration or the motivation to continue to do what you do and he always says, “keep on keeping on.”

Jeremy Goeckner: This year we are celebrating and highlighting a lot of firsts in the industry. Much like yourself, they’re individuals who are the first persons of color leading in their respective roles and companies within the industry as VPs, presidents, broker owners, team leaders and all kinds of things. While these new appointments are very justly due of great acclaim and acknowledgement, we also recognize that being the first of something may sometimes come with a very heightened pressure and anxiety that can come from that. Do you have any kind of advice that you would want to give to these people if they do feel some of that pressure and or that anxiety?

Zeke Morris: The first thing is understand being the first is there is a, there is a huge amount of, uh, responsibility that comes with being first. You’ve opened the door for others to follow. The most important thing is not to think that you by yourself have to make everything change while you’re there. It’s a journey, it’s a process. What we should be doing with our lives is making sure that we are showing others that this is one of the ways that you could achieve your goals. The biggest thing is don’t think that you have to do it all by yourself and don’t think that people expect for you to be the one that makes everything change.

Zeke Morris: We’ve been at this for over 200 years. What we are trying to do is continue to make progress. I will tell anyone that I’m the first at this spot, but I’m not the most talented, I’m not the end all, be all. I am a person who stands on someone else’s shoulders. I realized that it is important for me to be able to do the same and let someone else stand on my shoulders as they move, or, or step up to that next level. And then the final thing I want to say to folks is that we should learn that sharing our information is paramount with all folks and not be afraid that if I teach you something that you will be afraid that you’re going to accomplish more than me. I believe that whatever God has in store for me is what’s going to happen for me. And my job is to share the knowledge that I’ve been given so that others can do or exceed. And you can exceed what I’ve done, then that’s a testament to me, because I can say that I was part of that journey for you.

Jeremy Goeckner: That is fantastic advice. I’m going to take that to heart myself. I love your collaborative spirit. You’re right. Like there are so many times people compete with each other and that’s not what it’s about. It’s about moving the ball forward. The team comes first there. Before we wrap up are there any must watch or must-read things that you want to point out to people, any TV shows, movies, documentaries, books, anything that you are looking forward to reading this month?

Zeke Morris: I want folks to just choose what’s important to them, but one book that I continue to refer to is “The Color of Money” and that is important just from the perspective of it just talks about what it is that we can do to help move the needle forward. It’s not going to happen in one day and we have to collaborate with others in order for that to happen. So that would be one of the things that I would like for folks to just look and pick out anything that is important to you. One other book, which is not a book that is specifically about African American history and the struggle.

Zeke Morris: There’s a book called “The One Thing,” which basically teaches you how to be the individual that you want to be. Do what you do best. When you do that, you have to learn that everything’s not going to be perfect in your life. There’s going to be things that you have to accept that allow you to be messy and those things are messy. But concentrate on the thing that you do best and if  you do that and you work with others to handle the deficiencies that you have, that’s how you grow a business. And that would be one of the things that I would want everyone who is a REALTOR® to look at how they can improve themselves in their business. That would be one of the things. I think that would be a really great thing for anyone to do to better themselves.

Jeremy Goeckner: Yep. Just going to write that book title down right now. Cause I need that one as well. I think anybody in the world could use that. So, Zeke, just one more question before we wrap up. You know we have many new REALTORS® who have entered the industry the past year or so. As a history maker, you know that representation matters to REALTORS® of color, especially African American REALTORS®. To those who are new to the industry and even those who are not actively involved in the association, do you have any message for them that you would like to share?

Zeke Morris: I would probably like to share this with my colleagues. I would like for them to be on the lookout for talent and people that they think have the ability to be an asset within our organization. If they feel that they don’t know how to quite reach them, contact me to give them my thoughts on why it’s important to be a part of this organization and to be active and to understand what it is that we do and why we want to be in a place where we can have an impact within our communities. So that would be my challenge to my colleagues and to someone who is thinking about just being in the business. I want to invite you to the table. I want you to understand that if you feel that you are alone, you’re not. If you feel that you have to do it by yourself, you don’t. Know that there are a lot of folks like me that in this business that are looking to make sure that others are successful. Utilize us and get to know and understand all of the many different cultures within our industry. If we all just take a moment to understand each other, I think that the world will be a better place. And that’s what we’re looking to do in terms of Illinois REALTORS®.

Jeremy Goeckner: Absolutely. Well, I can vouch that the REALTOR® community is so caring and so giving of their time, especially President Morris. We just want to thank you once again for your time today, sitting down with us on for our weekly podcast. It won’t be the last time this year but we are happy to get you for the first time. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Zeke Morris: Well, thank you, Jeremy. You are one of my favorite people because you are always out here pushing things and making it happen. You make it happen.

Jeremy Goeckner: See, I don’t need anything else. Now it’s all downhill for the rest of this year! Thank you so Zeke and we will talk to you soon.

Zeke Morris: Right, talk to you later.

Jeremy Goeckner: That’s it for this week’s IR weekly podcast. Thank you all for listening and as always give us a rating and a review on your podcast app of choice. And if you want any more content, simply search for Illinois REALTORS® on your favorite social media app, we will see you next week.