Zora’s House Hires its Founder as CEO
When LC Johnson first got the idea for Zora’s House, she was new to Columbus and wanted to create a physical space for women of color.
Founded in 2018, Johnson says she and her husband had to get creative with how they were going to make this dream happen.
They purchased a vacant lot in Weinland Park, got a residential construction loan, and went through many iterations of variances to still be able to do what they set out to do in a residential space.
“It was really important that we had like a physical gathering space,” Johnson said. “But I think as an entrepreneur, and an activist, the challenges of being a young person and a person of color, a person who does not come from generational wealth, trying to actually finance and open a space was really challenging.”
But from the very beginning, Johnson agreed with her husband — whom she was just starting a family with — that she would continue to make a consistent income while running Zora’s House, 1311 Summit St.
Three and a half years and another child later, Zora’s House can now afford to hire its founder full-time.
She says it’s been a long time coming.
“From the very beginning, there were people, specifically black women and other women of color, who got it,” said Johnson. “I cannot overstate how meaningful it was to have people…who said, ‘This needs to happen.’ Who were there from the very beginning, saying, ‘Okay, do I need to become a member? Do you need some volunteers?'”
Along the way, she says Zora’s House has had a lot of community support through leadership and co-creation. Black women and other women of color have helped shape the vision and path toward sustainability for the space. She also had help from accelerator programs, including through the United Way.
Johnson’s spent the last few years building awareness, zeroing in on this mission of impacting and catalyzing “whatever dreams that Black woman and other women of color have for themselves and the world around them,” and building the business model to support it.
Johnson finally working at Zora’s House full-time comes after a difficult year for many people. 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic did stand in the way of sales projections and shift plans, including quitting her day job.
Then, with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the importance of having a sacred space for Black women and women of color was all the more confirmed for Johnson.
“It is so important to have sacred space that honors Black women, and other women of color, and their full humanity and their dreams,” she said. “Because it became very clear to me, it was reinforced to me that we live in a society that overwhelmingly still doesn’t.”
This rejuvenated Johnson to push forward. She eventually turned to her network and crowdsourced funding for Zora’s House, raising $150,000 in five months.
“I think there were so many people who, like me, looked at last year, looked around in 2021, and said, ‘This work is important right now. This is work that is needed,'” said Johnson. “There were a lot of people who are galvanized around the mission of Zora’s House and willing to help me make it happened.”
Johnson hesitates to say what 2021 will look like for Zora’s House, but now with a full-time CEO, it has the opportunity to build its programming, fundraising efforts, impact, and new national membership, which currently has a footing across 13 states and Canada.
Looking beyond the pandemic, Johnson wants to work with members on the next iteration of Zora’s House programming.
So far the organization has hosted cultural, skill-building, and community events to highlight and center the identities, experiences, and ideas of women of color. But Johnson hopes to move beyond that.
“If we just did that, it would still be necessary because it’s missing in our community. But I think the next phase for us is to even think beyond [that],” she said. “So things that we can do to actually support women of color actualizing their leadership and their dreams.”
Johnson also hopes to eventually see a bigger space for Zora’s House in the future, which will equip members to do even more types of programming.
“I like to say like, it’s my vision. But I’m not the only one steering the ship,” she said. “And so I honestly think that this year, just having the capacity of full-time staff, is going to be transformative for us.”
For more information, visit zorashouse.com.