THE newly crowned Miss Cork Zoe Hendrick was the victim of racial slurs growing up in the city.
That’s why the 24-year-old CIT marketing graduate intends to use her platform to help others in the same situation.
This was actually Zoe’s second time entering the contest: “I applied when I was 18 but nerves got to me before it started, I just didn’t have the confidence, so I pulled out.” And the young Blackrock woman said part of the reason her confidence was low was due to racism she experienced in Cork over the years.
“I would have had a few experiences when I was working in retail in the city where people didn’t expect me to be able to speak English, not to mind have a Cork accent. Or in national school there would have been kids asking if they touched me would they turn black too.
Then I suppose as a teen I wondered if boys would find me attractive, that kind of thing.
“It still can happen on a night out, say if I accidentally bumped into someone you might get ‘you black this or that’ but I just brush it off. It’s usually someone who has had too much drink so I don’t give them the satisfaction of reacting and my friends are always very supportive,” she said.
“Every now and then there can be a snide remark, but most people shut it down and people are more educated now. Cork has come a long way over the years since I was in school but there’s still more learning to go. I want to raise awareness for racial equality and remind people to think about their choice of words. And if you don’t know what words to use, that’s ok, just come up and ask!” In June, around the time of George Floyd’s death and protests in the US, she shared a powerful post on Instagram, where she said she felt it was time she ‘spoke her mind.’ In it she said she had faced racism all her life, sometimes in obvious ways but other times, more subtly.
“When we were kids we were taught that security guards’ eyes would be on me because of my skin, so don’t look suspicious… I was told one black model was enough for a show and they wouldn’t need me…that I should remove my image on my CV in case whoever was hiring was racist…People think racism is only in America but it’s here.”
Zoe’s father is of African-Jamaican descent. He lives in the US and while she’s had a few conversations with him, she says they don’t have much contact.
For years it was herself, her sister Sarah (22) and her mum Fiona and they are a very tight unit. She says Sarah, is her best friend. ‘She isn’t mixed race but we’re basically the same person,’ she said.
“My mom and I are also very similar. I probably tell her too much, and I totally respect her judgement,” said Zoe.
Her step-dad Jason is her ‘dad,’ she says and among her hobbies are playing playstation with him for hours at a time.
In the five years between her pulling out of the competition, and reapplying, Zoe always had Miss Cork firmly on her radar.
“I really worked on my confidence during that time by modelling, including for RTÉ with Lockdown. The competition was always on my bucket list and I really wanted this experience. The attraction to me was really to be able to use the platform to promote things that mean something to me,” she said.
For Zoe, who is a digital marketing analyst for First Choice Purchasing in the city centre, that includes highlighting Alzheimer’s charities.
“My great grandmother on my mom’s side, Kathleen Gallivan died with Alzheimer’s a few years ago in a nursing home. My dad’s mother, Josephine, who lived with us, also died with it two years ago,” she said.
She said her win was made more special as she did it especially for her grandfather John O’Driscoll who has been in hospital since last week and who she’s close to.
Outside of being ‘a nerd’ and playing playstation, in her spare time Zoe enjoys running and spending time with her dog.
“He’s called Alvin and is a cross between a Jack Russell and a terrier. I’ve had him 11 years. He’s like an old man 90% of the time, sighing and making noise for when it’s time to go to bed, but as soon as he sees the lead, he’s like a puppy!” Zoe’s looking forward to the Miss Ireland competition which they hope will be able to go ahead in some format in November.
But in the meantime she is urging other people of colour to enter Miss Cork.
“No one of colour even applies to Miss Cork. I really want to encourage others to take part.
I’ve a younger cousin of mixed race and the advice I give her is what I wish I’d had when I was growing up.” She captures that sentiment perfectly in her Instagram post when she wrote: “I feel the world is finally listening that we as a black community are equals, we are no different to you. We have been hiding in fear for too long and now our voices are being heard.”