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An 'Act Of Kindness ... I Never Forgot': Zenobia Orimoloye On Moving To Texas As A Black Woman

Zenobia Orimoloye outside her home.
Michael Minasi
When Zenobia Orimoloye told folks in Chicago she was moving to Austin, some asked if she was scared.

Doing a small kindness for someone in need might seem like a simple thing, but it can leave an impression that lasts decades.

That's what happened for Zenobia Orimoloye in the early 1990s, shortly after she moved to Austin. 

Earlier this year, we put out a call for your stories about overcoming differences — true stories about finding common ground.

Working with the Austin Public Library and The Library Foundation, we collected the submissions and helped writers shape their stories into pieces to read for the radio.

Orimoloye wrote about her experience as a Black woman moving to Texas from the Midwest.

Read Orimoloye's story for our Common Ground project:  

I'm from Chicago. I worked for an agency for several years with limited opportunities for promotion. One day – feeling restless at work – I saw six jobs posted for management. 

All of the jobs were out of state. I applied for all six. I was stunned when I was contacted to come for an interview in Austin, Texas.

I was the only applicant from out of town.

Two weeks later, I was offered the job. I accepted. The news spread like wildfire. People came to congratulate me — but with reservations. A white female director talked to me about the South and asked — did I really want to work down there? Some people asked if was I scared. Now I started to doubt my choice. I discussed it with my grandmother, who encouraged me to go but to be very careful.  

I arrived in Austin in 1991. My new director gave me an overview of Texas. Some people referred to me as a Yankee, but I told them I was from the Midwest not the East Coast.

One night I was driving home late about 1a.m. when my car died on I-35.  I was in a panic.

A red truck pulled over and parked behind my car. A white man walked slowly toward my car. He asked in a slow, southern drawl, "Miss, do you need some help?" 

I stammered, "No, I'm OK." 

He started walking away, but then turned back toward me. I was terrified, visions of the Klan, rednecks and racists flashed before me. 

He came back to the car, "Miss it's late. How do you plan to get home? You can ride with us.” 

I was scared and tired. I agreed and walked back to his truck. I met his wife. I gave him the directions to my house and prayed. I sat in the front with them. 

They were friendly and drove me home. He refused to accept any money from me. He walked me to my door like a perfect gentleman. They waved goodbye and drove off.

That act of kindness is something I never forgot. They were good people who helped a person in need. After all, we're all a part of the human race.

Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.
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