A Dose of ‘Good Trouble’

A New Jersey broker and salesperson is committed to creating a vibrant, equitable community where all can reap the benefits.
Four smiling black people, three men and one woman, with arms linked around one another

Photo courtesy of Tez Roro

Tezeta "Tez" Roro, second from left, attends the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association (ECMAA) picnic

Growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tezeta “Tez” Roro, a broker and salesperson with Keller Williams Suburban Realty in Livingston, N.J., learned to prioritize her family and neighbors—values she took with her when she immigrated to America.

As she progressed in her corporate career and navigated a culture sometimes inhospitable to those values, her resolve to bring the focus back to family and community intensified.

Roro knew that to maintain the values she held dearly, she’d have to shake things up. To summarize her approach, she often quotes the late civil rights leader and politician, John Lewis: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Committed to Family

When Roro was 15, she immigrated to the U.S. with her mother and then-preschool-age sister. While attending high school in Orange, N.J., Roro—who knew she’d need to help her family—got a job at a drugstore and babysat her sister while her mom worked. When it was time to go off to college, she chose to attend a local university—Montclair State University—so she’d be close enough to continue to help care for her little sister. 

Although she studied biology and intended to become a doctor, she realized she’d need to pivot: the cost and years of training were formidable obstacles. By the end of college, Roro was simultaneously working three jobs. Along with the drugstore, she pulled overnight shifts at the school computer lab and gave campus tours to prospective families.

Navigating Inhospitable Corporate Culture

While spending 12 years climbing the corporate ladder at a retail outpost for a major communication technology company, Roro earned her MBA and got married. In 2012, while growing her family and becoming a mother for the first time, she started experiencing frustration with modern corporate culture. 

After she’d missed a few days of work to care for her baby (who was sick with RSV), her then-manager warned her the absences shouldn’t become a habit. Frustrated and emboldened, she realized she needed to stand up for herself and her family.

She told her manager, “I’m a professional with an advanced degree. I’ll do all I can to be here. But if my support system doesn’t come through, I’ll have to leave. I will not feel guilty when he gets sick.”

Afterward, she says colleagues told her she walked differently. “It was a turning point for me,” Roro recalls. “I’m generally an introvert and not assertive, but I began to be assertive. Being from somewhere else, I know there’s a different model for life. In Ethiopia, neighbors look out for each other. The culture is very communal.”

When she was nine months pregnant with her second child, Roro realized the demands of her job were unsustainable. One evening, after working until 10 p.m., she was so exhausted, and the roads were so dark, that she hit a deer on her way home. After arriving at her condo, she checked her email and found a message from her manager, alerting her there was more work to be done.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she reflects. In 2016, after her parental leave, she resigned. At the time, she’d already obtained her real estate license two years earlier and had been working with an independent brokerage on weekends. Now though, she was intent on making a living outside the corporate world in a career that would allow her to live in alignment with her values, which meant exploring real estate in more depth.

A Career Built on Creating Access

Roro’s experience as a first-time home buyer spurred her interest in learning more about the industry. When she and her husband bought their first home in 2014, they were confused and intimidated. Along with not realizing buying was possible for them, they struggled to navigate complex contracts and HOA bylaws. “We were dealing with brokers and attorneys that had zero empathy for someone buying a home for the first time. It was such a big decision, I had questions, and I felt dismissed.” Then, she thought, “I can do this better.”

Two months later, Roro began taking real estate courses and earned her license. In January 2015, while still a full-time employee at the communication technology corporation, she started working weekends and evenings at a small independent brokerage. After a year she transitioned over to Keller Williams, sensing more growth opportunities.

She used personal time from her full-time job to attend the brokerage’s monthly in-person sales meetings and completed the brokerage’s intensive real estate training courses while out on maternity leave from her corporate job. Following her leave and her resignation from the large corporation, she worked full-time in real estate.

Now, years later with her broker’s license and numerous certifications, Roro strives to help her clients understand their options and their rights so they can make informed decisions. In particular, expanding access to housing galvanizes Roro, who convinced and helped a local 80-unit community to get FHA certification. “Some HOA boards and sellers are biased against buyers with FHA loans,” she explains. “People think they don’t have good credit. But, to get an FHA loan, your finances need to be in order. There’s a great auditing system.”

Commitment to Community 

Roro believes that to build a real estate business, she must also build up her community. She sees the two as intrinsically linked. To motivate people to move to West Orange, she needs to help them see its appeal and reap its benefits. “A lot of people complain about the taxes here, and I explain to them that we have high taxes because of our proximity to New York City and also because those taxes help uplift our community offerings.” One of those offerings, free full-day pre-K, is something she helped bring to life.

President of the West Orange Council of PTAs, Roro wasn’t discouraged when the town of West Orange told her they couldn't offer such a program. Instead, she sprang into action, creating a grassroots organization, which sent emails to the Board of Education and organized community meetings. Simultaneously, Roro contacted private daycares, partnering with them to create a program serving nearly 500 kids. “When you become part of the solution and understand the puzzle pieces, it’s hard for people to say ‘no,’” she observes.

Along with being President of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce and on the board of her local YMCA, Roro offers free virtual business advice sessions to her network. (In the future, she plans to add career coaching to her business.) She also helps with English-Amharic interpretations for the Ethiopian community. “I’m active in my community in authentic ways,” she explains. “I’m on the PTA because I’m a parent. I’m in the Chamber of Commerce because I own a business.” 

At the end of the day, Roro makes things happen. “I like to call myself a professional troublemaker,” she says. “I challenge assumptions and I don’t like accepting things the way they are just because they’ve been done that way. And if I’m taking time away from my family and business to give, I’m going to make an impact.”