Zeke Morris chairs the Fair Housing Act Anniversary Implementation Group, which was charged with this year’s commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. Coming off an emotionally charged week of fair housing-themed events, there’s no doubt that Zeke was the right person in the right place at the right time.
Zeke hails from Chicago, which has often found itself at the epicenter of historic civil rights and housing discrimination issues. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Chicago in November 1966 to fight for fair housing, he observed, “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.” Notwithstanding the fact that Chicago is home to nearly 1 million black residents, the local REALTOR® association did not admit its first black member until 1963, and Morris is one of four African-American past presidents.
Zeke recounted in a conversation with me his memories of driving to the South to visit relatives decades ago, remembering the southernmost town in Illinois where it was safe for a black man to get off the interstate before a long stretch where it was not safe. He started high school as one of just a few black students in the school. He then watched as rampant “white flight” resulted in his school becoming nearly all black by the time he graduated. Yet, much of his life has involved building bridges of understanding and respect with folks from very different backgrounds.
Zeke at the dedication of the Frank Williams Real Estate Education Center at Zeke’s office on Chicago’s South Side in April.
Zeke has built a successful business on Chicago’s South Side. In the last few weeks, he dedicated the Frank Williams Real Estate Education Center in his office, named in honor of another Chicago Fair Housing giant and trailblazer. At the dedication ceremony, Zeke said “What you are doing tonight is helping me realize a dream… to have a place on the South Side—in the ‘hood—that we could be proud of and where we could have our brightest and best teaching and making sure we can all make a living.”
During the NAR Legislative Meetings, Zeke flew back to the Midwest for a day to attend his daughter’s college graduation—then flew right back to D.C. so as not to miss the Board of Directors meeting. Zeke commented that as an African-American, seeing his kids graduate college, never sensing that their opportunities should be—or even could be—limited by the color of their skin represented the greatest accomplishment he could ever hope for.
Zeke, his Vice-Chair Gail Hartnett, and the rest of the Fair Housing Working Group helped plan an incredible series of fair housing-related events for NAR this year, but Zeke spent a tremendous amount of time, working invisibly behind the scenes on some of the most important accomplishments of the year. When Diversity Chair Tim Hur read a Fair Housing Resolution into NAR’s permanent record at Saturday’s Board of Directors meeting, it was the culmination of months of multilateral meetings and negotiations, and Zeke played a key role. He helped to secure collaboration from, and the blessing of, The National Association of Real Estate Brokers, The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, the Asian Real Estate Association of America, Women’s Council of REALTORS®, and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals. Having the National Association of Real Estate Brokers President Jeffrey Hicks—a man who presides over an organization born out of the REALTOR® organization’s refusal to admit black members–on stage to commend the resolution and to exchange hugs with NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall would have been unfathomable a very short time ago.
Zeke Morris’s fingerprints can be found all over some of the most significant and historic moments for NAR this year. He’s the right man at the right place at the right time to help make history.
Zeke on stage at the Fair Housing reception on Tuesday evening.
Zeke Morris and Gail Hartnett, Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively, of the NAR Fair Housing Working Group stand together on stage for some well deserved recognition during the Board of Directors meeting.
Zeke Morris with Fred Underwood, NAR’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, at the NAR Board of Directors meeting.
Fair Housing Working Group Chair Zeke Morris, and Vice Chair Gail Hartnett, are greeted on stage by NAR CEO Bob Goldberg during the Board of Diretors meeting