Alumnus Lorenzo “Zo” Amani finds purpose in helping others
Changing the world may be impossible, but changing a world is realistic — that’s how Lorenzo “Zo” Amani ’12 looks at life.
Amani's journey from the Hokie football team to the financial world is a tale of perseverance, personal growth, and adaptability. During his time at Virginia Tech, coaches, peers, faculty, and staff members championed him as an athlete, a student, and an intern. Now, he’s taken on the role of mentor and role model for others.
The son of military parents, Amani had a childhood marked by frequent moves and structured discipline – experiences that shaped his personality and honed his ability to perform under pressure, especially in athletics. He was a defensive back on his high school football team while also running the 400-meter dash in Junior Olympics. But when competing in both sports became too time-consuming, he settled on football – largely because football scholarships were more lucrative.
Amani’s strategic thinking paid off. By the time he finished high school, Amani fielded multiple scholarship offers and ultimately chose to play for coach Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. An injury, though, derailed his football career shortly before the start of his junior season. Expected to contribute heavily to the Hokies’ defense, Amani suffered a painful Lisfranc injury just weeks before the 2010 opener against Boise State, and he then decided to focus his attention on other off-field interests.
Shifting from athletics to academics
Amani's experience as an athlete equipped him with skills that transcended sports, but shifting from a life driven by physical prowess and team dynamics to one that demanded academic rigor required both courage and adaptability. Fortunately, plenty of people were cheering him on. Beamer kept him on scholarship, and athletic department staff urged him to work as an intern.
“I had a lot of people at Virginia Tech who encouraged me to learn and step outside of just being an athlete,” said Amani. “My upbringing in a military family taught me resilience and flexibility, and at Tech, people mentored me along the way, pointing out different opportunities for me to pursue.”
One of those opportunities was studying abroad. “Student athletes at the time didn’t really study abroad,” he said. “We were generally too busy competing in our sport. This was a fantastic experience – one that taught me that we’re all a lot more alike than we are different, even in various corners of the world.”
After graduating with degrees in sociology and consumer affairs, Amani decided to help others facing significant transitions from college athletics to academics and careers post-college. It’s a challenge many athletes grapple with – fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. He found his chance at Arizona State University. While studying for a master’s degree in higher education, Amani served as an academic coach to student athletes.
Amani noted with a laugh that he “was a 23-year-old mentoring 21-year-olds on what life could be like after athletics.” He soon realized that he wanted to help even more people on a larger scale and decided to “lead and learn” simultaneously.
He took on a variety of positions in Washington, D.C., and Boston – with the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Most of these jobs were full-time while he studied part-time for his Ph.D. in public administration and public affairs at Virginia Tech.
During his second year with the Federal Reserve, Amani met his wife, Aliyha, who now works as a tax attorney.
A meaningful surname
In 2017, Amani – whose last name was Williams up until that time – changed his name to the Swahili word for “peace.” The name is meaningful to him: He believes that many people struggle with finding peace in their lives and this turns to inner turmoil. The name-change not only brought him joy, but it sparked deeply moving conversations with other people.
He and Aliyha recently founded athleisure apparel company, Amani and Moto, which means “peace and fire” in Swahili. The name acknowledges that peace is often wrought through difficult trials.
A portion of all proceeds from the clothing company will be donated to organizations providing financial literacy and education training to minorities.
An unlimited future
Today, Amani is vice president and chief compliance officer at Industrial Bank, ensuring financial inclusion and community development through the Community Reinvestment Act. He was recently named to the U.S Black Chambers' Power 50 Under 40 List. He makes a point of continuing to mentor others, focusing mostly on leadership and financial literacy.