Focusing on work doesn’t come easy when you feel like you can’t be yourself. And, it’s even harder to build momentum in work or life in general when you don’t feel supported, or are lacking the community of others like you. LC Johnson found these issues to be especially true, and she gathered all her prior studies and career experience to create a co-working space for women of color called Zora’s House. “It’s a safe space where women can bring all of their messy, vulnerable, authentic truths AND be rooting in their identity as black and brown and Indigenous women,” LC shares. “That’s so much more rare than most people know. I created this space because I needed it for myself and couldn’t find it.”
LC’s path to launching Columbus, OH-based Zora’s House in April 2018 has always been centered around amplifying the voices of women of color and supporting and encouraging the talents of others. “I graduated from Duke University in 2010 with a degree in Women’s Studies,” she tells us. “My career has been focused around topics of women of color leadership, entrepreneurship, and authenticity as a youth educator, curriculum developer, and program director in the non-profit sector.”
LC started a blog called Colored Girl Confidential, a place where she compiled her wisdom and motivation to empower women of color to grow their skills and be their happiest selves — and in January 2015 published the book Colored Girl Confidential: A Colored Girl’s Guide to Kicking Ass in Work, Love and Life. “CGC started as a way for me to process my own journey as a young professional woman of color and ultimately became a healing space, not only for me, but for women of color around the country on their own journeys of self-discovery,” she says. “CGC taught me about community building in tangible, powerful ways — the need for community, how it gets shaped, and how it gets maintained. All of these lessons are ones I use every day in bringing the Zora’s House vision to life.”
Now LC’s lessons are employed daily at Zora’s House, a gathering place for women of color that’s part social club, part co-working studio, and part workshop and event space. Today we’re honored to have LC share her journey in starting Zora’s House, the lessons she’s learned along the way, advice for creatives who want to try out co-working spaces, and more. —Kelli
Photography by Megan Leigh Barnard Photography
Image above: LC Johnson at work in the co-working/event space she founded, Zora’s House.
Image above: Kaydian Comer and Melissa Bryant, two Zora’s House Ambassadors. LC says, “We have a great team of Ambassadors who support the work and help shape the community. These are the women who are in the space day in and day out.”
What is your overall objective with Zora's House? What guided you in creating it?
When I was in college, two of my favorite places were the Women’s Center and the Black Culture Center. As a woman of color attending a predominantly white university, I knew that stepping foot into either of these two spaces meant the ability to connect with likeminded individuals, to encounter mentors and friends who looked like me, and to attend programs and access resources that spoke directly to my particular identity and experiences. But after graduating from college, I quickly realized that spaces like these were not the norm out in the “real world.”
Zora’s House is a community and creative space created by and for women of color. Our mission is to provide women of color with the clarity, confidence, and connections they need to amplify their authentic voices; grow and contribute their talents; and powerfully transform their lives, careers, and communities. One of our members once called Zora’s House “sanctuary.” It’s a safe space where women can bring all of their messy, vulnerable, authentic truths AND be rooting in their identity as black and brown and Indigenous women. That’s so much more rare than most people know. I created this space because I needed it for myself and couldn’t find it.
Why is it important to create physical spaces for women, people of color, and non-binary people to work?
Women, people of color, femmes, and non-binary folks are used to navigating spaces that were not created with them in mind. For many of us, this means using precious time and energy worrying about how we are perceived and dealing with micro-agressions. Having physical space that prioritizes emotional safety allows us to put away the “mask” and tap fully into our most creative and vulnerable selves.
How does your community help creatives through some of the scariest parts of starting or running their own businesses?
At Zora’s House, we celebrate failure. Failure takes courage. It takes vision. It takes action. Someone who is visionary, courageous, and willing to take action doesn’t get just one chance at doing something amazing. We get an entire journey, an entire life’s worth. And that’s such a powerful reminder. That what we are bringing to the world and to our work is so much bigger than our own fear.
I created this space because I needed it for myself and couldn't find it.
How do you see your space and community growing over time to help the creatives in your area?
Our goal is to let our members shape our growth. Our space opened in April of 2018 with an idea of how we would function and what ways we might best meet the needs of our community. In the brief time since, we’ve already adjusted our membership structure and pricing model, and changed the language we use to describe the space to more accurately reflect how our members access and use the space. Ultimately our goal is to create a safe space for folks who identify with our mission to connect, create, and grow. What this looks like, sounds like, and feels like will continue to evolve and be shaped by our community in major ways.
What are physical aspects of your co-working community that help make people feel at home and welcome?
Our space is a literal house! With cozy chairs, a front porch, a kitchen, and sunny nooks to read, write, connect, and create, our goal was to create a space that has the physical and emotional comfort of home with amenities like printing, whiteboards, and meeting rooms that make working easy and convenient. All our art is created by local women of color artists, our books feature women of color authors. We want the people who work here to see themselves everywhere they look.
What has been your biggest lesson or takeaway in starting up a communal space? What has it taught you about the way you work?
I think the biggest takeaway as a founder or facilitator of the space is that I still need space where I can be nurtured and productive. I love the community at Zora’s House. I love connecting and creating there, but as a founder, I always have to be “on.” I have to be available to answer questions, support others, and greet folks when they walk in the door. That’s all stuff that brings me joy but I’ve realized that it is still important for me to make time to be in spaces where I can be a participant and not a leader. Sometimes this means taking off my “founder’s” hat while at Zora’s House, but more often than not it looks like finding safe, creative space for myself so that I can create it for others.
What advice do you have for other creatives who are interested in starting spaces that celebrate people of color in their communities?
I think the most powerful communities created for folks with marginalized identities are those created by the marginalized themselves. I believe deeply in allyship but if you are interested in creating safe space for people of color, make sure there are some people around the table who have those identities and contribute to that making of that space.
What advice do you have for staying motivated during the summer months?
My best advice? Don’t! I’m a big believer in seasons of creativity and seasons of rest. One book that has been really transformative for me in my business and creative process is The Power of Full Engagement which is all about managing your energy and not your time, and establishing habits and schedules and seasons of creation based on energy and inspiration. So if the summer is a chill season for you, be chill. But plan your business and creative process up front in such a way that that can happen and not be detrimental to the revenue coming in or the work that is coming out.
Image above: Zora’s House member Melissa Crum at work.
What are your top tips for people who might be scared to come join a new co-working space because they don't know anyone yet? How can they connect and make genuine friends?
I really only have two pieces of advice for folks new to communal spaces. The first is to talk to everyone. At the water fountain. While waiting to microwave lunch. When folks walk in the door. I’m from the south so it feels unnatural for me to share space — even standing in line with someone — for more than about five seconds without saying something but I realize this is not the norm for most people! Take some time to observe the culture of the space you are in. (For example, maybe people wear headphones when they don’t want to be disturbed. Or maybe folks tend to break around the same time and eat lunch together.) Figure out what works in that space and then push yourself to take part in the “social norms.”
My second tip is cliche but so important! Be yourself. Bring your full, unapologetic self into the spaces you are in. What this looks like is up to you but allow people to see who you are, what you love, how you show up in the world at your most authentic. The people who are attracted to the realest version of you will be the ones you build the deepest relationships with!