On Friday, November 16, 2018, fourteen Columbus area residents will become part of the TEDxColumbus community when they present their talks for On the Edge.
Meet LC Johnson:
Columbus’ women of color find their home away from home
By: Cheryl Forcina
Any newcomer to a city the size of Columbus would tell you this: Acclimation can be a challenge. And a newcomer who can’t seem to find faces that look like hers or women who share the same experiences? Well, she’d tell you that acclimating is even more challenging. She’d also tell you to create an environment where you find the sense of community you seek.
Real. Imperfect. Messy. These women live within the pages of Zora Neale Hurston’s early 20th century novels, which depict racial struggles in the anthropologist and author’s American South.
“These were women who drank, cursed, had sex, spoke in dialect,” said local writer and activist LC Johnson. “[Hurston] wrote at a time when people thought blacks didn’t have culture. She wrote of our humanity—we write, we paint, we create.”
If Hurston’s influence isn’t apparent when talking to Johnson about the author, then one look at Johnson’s co-working and community space should do the trick—it’s called Zora’s House. Its Summit Street location is a home away from home created for women of color. And like its namesake, it’s a pioneer of sorts as the first of its kind in Columbus. A business inspired by what its founder saw—or didn’t see—when she moved to Columbus from Durham, N.C., in 2015.
“I looked around [Columbus], and there were a lot of community spaces where I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” Johnson recalled. “These spaces weren’t necessarily created with people like me in mind.”
So Johnson got curious. She began asking other people of color this simple, yet telling, question: Where do you feel most comfortable being completely yourself?
“They all answered, ‘at home,’” Johnson said. “So I thought, ‘How do we create safe spaces for women of color to fully express themselves?”
Described on its website as “part social club, part co-working studio, part workshop and event space,” Zora’s House is very much about community and the individual. Not a stretch by any means for Johnson, who’s also the director of leadership and social justice programs for the YWCA Columbus. Through Johnson’s work there, teenage girls learn that they can be agents of change. Young women develop the confidence needed as potential leaders. Programs like this exist for a reason, Johnson said.
“We think everyone has equal opportunity. But there are people on the edge, even if we don’t see them,” she said. “And because of their identity, we may be losing out on their talents.”
Which brings us back to Hurston, the author, whose work remained relatively obscure until the 1970s.
“[Hurston’s] work showed that we were worthy of consideration however you are,” Johnson said. “And that’s the spirit of Zora’s House—come as you are.”
Duke University alum LC Johnson is an award-winning writer, entrepreneur and activist with a passion for empowering women, particularly women of color. Her work on the topics of race and gender have appeared in Forbes Magazine, Huffington Post, Black Enterprise and more. Johnson lives in Columbus with her husband and son.
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