By Peter Tonguette for Columbus CEO The Columbus Dispatch
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) LC Johnson is the creator of "Zora's House", a co-working space for women of color. She says the idea grew out of a meet-up group she created to empower women of color in leadership and entrepreneurship.
The Columbus Dispatch
LC Johnson had just about given up on entrepreneurship when she founded Zora's House, a space in Weinland Park that serves as a spot for women of color to co-work, participate in events or simply socialize.
A native of New York City, Johnson made a name for herself as a writer and speaker on social justice issues.
Tired of the gig life, upon arriving in Columbus in 2015 she settled into a position at the YWCA Columbus.
Realizing that central Ohio was missing an organization to bring together women of color, Johnson dreamed up Zora's House, which opened its doors in 2018. The organization draws income from a two-tiered membership system, but as the needs of its members evolve, so does the house.
Johnson also serves as director of community entrepreneurship for a Columbus program by the nonprofit Forward Cities.
Q: What was your career path up to now?
A: I actually graduated from Duke University in 2010 with a degree in women's studies, which I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with, and neither did my parents. ... I worked in the nonprofit sector for quite a while, and right after college, I moved to Boston for a year, where I worked in a nonprofit.
But I moved back to North Carolina. I started working with a former professor of mine from Duke who was in the process of opening a co-working space for social entrepreneurs. And that was my entrée into the world of entrepreneurship.
I worked in that space for a little bit of time, and at the same time I started writing. I started a website where I was writing a lot about my own journey as a professional and writing about women of color and leadership and entrepreneurship and the intersections there.
But, by the time I moved to Columbus in 2015, I was pretty burned out with the hustle. And I told my husband, "I'm ready to just get a job like a normal person. I'm so over entrepreneurship." ... I ultimately found a role that was a really good fit for me at YWCA Columbus. ... Then, once I got a job, I was like, "Oh, OK, cool. Now I can just focus on making friends and just getting to know Columbus." I didn't really know anybody here, and I just started looking around, and I was like, "Um, so where do all the women of color go to hang out?"
Q: You felt you had to build such a place yourself.
A: I was like, "This has to exist." So I told my husband, "Babe, remember how I said I was supposed to be done with entrepreneurship? Umm ..."
Q: How did Zora's House come together?
A: I had read the book "The Lean Startup," which is one of my favorite books of all time, not only for entrepreneurs but for anybody who's trying to get something off the ground -- the idea that you need to find a way to test it in the marketplace before you go full throttle. I started a meet-up group, and I decided to just start doing pop-up events. And I used the meet-up group to describe the type of community that I was hoping to create.
Q: Were you always thinking of naming Zora's House after African American writer Zora Neale Hurston?
A: My husband had a Christmas party at his organization. I was talking to one of their board members. I had just told her, "I'm opening up a community space for women of color called Zora's House." And I do not know where that came from. I had not thought of the name previously. What I love about Zora Neale Hurston and her legacy is that she was a woman who wrote about the lives of black women.
Q: What goes on at Zora's House on any given week?
A: One of the things we found when we first opened is that we had created something that was really hard to describe. I initially was like, "Yeah, it's a co-working space." That was the tradition that I came from. There were two kinds of reactions that I got. One was that there were a lot of women of color who were like, "What the hell's a co-working space?"
I also recognized on a deeper level -- and I knew this from my own journey -- that the thought that this will be your office space, that it was very discongruent for a lot of the women who were coming through because their offices and their workspaces were not traditionally spaces where they had felt safe and authentic to be their full selves.
Q: You had to get people out of that mindset because it had a negative connotation.
A: I always tell them, "Imagine your favorite coffee shop and your homegirl's house had a baby, and that's Zora's House."
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