Zweli Williams Of Zweli’s Kitchen and Catering: I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream
… I am reminded every day that I am lucky to be alive. I went from a young girl whose name was not known to a woman with her name on the side of a building. To me, that is privilege. I chose to use my privilege for good. As long as my kitchen is pumping, my community will not go hungry. My husband and I have vowed to always be people driven and to serve the community that supports our business, as long and much as we can.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zwlibanzi Moyo-Williams.
Zwlibanzi Moyo-Williams was born in Zimbabwe and is the third of four children. The first couple years of her life were good, but her life took a drastic turn when she was two. It was during a time of civil war in Zimbabwe called Gukurahundi, when a series of massive attacks were carried out in Matebeleland, a region largely occupied by the Ndebele people. Zwelibanzi Moyo-Williams grew up in Bulawayo, but moved to the United States in 1998 to study hospitality and tourism. She met her husband, Leonardo, at North Carolina Central University, and they created a happy life together.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
The first few years of my childhood were rather tough; this was back in Zimbabwe during time of civil war or what is known as Gukurahundi. Even today, this question is the most difficult to answer because it forces to me have to un-layer the psychological safeholds I put in place to protect me from the memories of tragedy. However, as I look back, that little girl was powerful, strong, and resilient. She persevered the unthinkable. She survived kidnap, hunger, poverty, homelessness, abuse, rape, lack of education and more. I am inspired by my past because my mother instilled in me a strength I didn’t know then, but surely understand and appreciate now. I am Zweli!
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
I migrated to the US after completion of my high school studies, the choice was fairly easy being that I already had an older sister who had previously moved to the United States to attend college in North Carolina. At the time due to a decline in the Zimbabwean economy, and inflation rates rising at an alarming rate, a lot of parents were sending their children to other countries in order to further their education. So, upon graduating, my family decided that it would be best if I joined my sister at North Carolina Central University
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Migrating from one culture to another is never easy, but you certainly make the best of it. When I moved to the US, in so many ways I felt like I was an infant; there were so many new things to learn, from just understanding a different accent to learning the credit system. I felt like I was already so far behind in life, having to learn rudimentary things that other people had been born into, I’m a very competitive person and I like excelling at being the best in everything I do. So, being new to the country meant that I was already at a disadvantage. I had to work three times harder than anyone else in the room in order to be considered for any opportunities. I worked so hard, both in College and in all the jobs I had, I had a laser focus and aimed to be the best in the room, regardless of my background. I quickly learned that I defined discipline differently than most of those around me. I began to see my disadvantage turn into my advantage.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My oldest sister Tiny Norris helped me get acclimated to everything around me, although she had only been in the US for a year herself. She had managed to figure things out really quickly, be it the bus system for going to school and to work, juggling bills and staying financially afloat. She taught me how to survive every single day, and how to excel in a time when everything seemed impossible.
So how are things going today?
Today I’m a United States citizen, a mother to a teenage boy, a wife, an author and a business owner. My husband and I own the first Zimbabwean restaurant in the country. Not only has my restaurant excelled, we also play a very active role in the community, through the Covid pandemic, we’ve served 49,672 meals to those in need. Today I’m a role model to people from all walks of life. The way my life began, I was considered a forgotten little girl in the corner of the world. The way I live my life today is inspiring all of those little girls who are beginning life the way I did; letting them see in the flesh, that they too can be what their dreams project. My Memoir will soon be released and in it, I share my personal story, one of strength, resilience and survival.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am reminded every day that I am lucky to be alive. I went from a young girl whose name was not known to a woman with her name on the side of a building. To me, that is privilege. I chose to use my privilege for good. As long as my kitchen is pumping, my community will not go hungry. My husband and I have vowed to always be people driven and to serve the community that supports our business, as long and much as we can.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
That’s easy; be more humane, honor the value that immigrants bring to this country, and build a system of bridges, not walls.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
When migrating to the US, I remember thinking on the plane “I need to learn about the American Dream. I need to get an education, a house with a white picket fence, a dog, husband and a nice dress with a smile.” Nothing about that idea appeared authentic to me, but it was all I knew. When I arrived here, as stated earlier, it was tough. Not everyone was nice as I hoped, and I didn’t see any white picket fences. However, I enrolled into school and worked really hard through many jobs. I got fired from many jobs due to my language barrier or the lack of regard for me being a woman. Nevertheless, I persevered. When one job was lost, I gained another. I was kicked out of college due to my VISA expiring. I renewed it and finished school. I birthed my son and unfortunately was left to raise him as a single mother. I survived abuse. I worked to provide for us, gaining more and more experience. Years later, I married my college sweetheart and together we grew stronger. We set forth our own dreams to make true. In this journey, I learned that you must 1. Work for your name. My mother still tells me this today. 2. Life is tough, but you must be tougher. 3. Your dreams should be your North Star. 4. You don’t have to do life alone. 5. It’s ok to be scared. You will soon realize that fear is your fuel. Of the things I experienced throughout this life thus far, I have realized that I truly am the American Dream.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
Yes, the US, like countries all over the world, always have room for growth. In order for that improvement to happen, I believe it will take this country being more receptive to talent and personalities that are good and investing, not hateful. However, I remain optimistic because this country, while tough, allotted me the capacity to be tough too. The US is a place of opportunity and this is to be appreciated. Lastly, the US is poised to grow and that means, more girls just like me can help define that growth.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Absolutely. Michelle Obama. I can imagine beautiful blue skies, clear blue water, and mimosas over brunch, discussing how Black women are becoming more proximate and prominent in the US.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I’m reachable at @chefzweliwilliams on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube. My restaurant is reachable at @zweliskitchen on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Our email is email@example.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!