Cover: Zora's House Ambassador Amber Evans

Erica Thompson

Henry Green. Jaron Thomas. Ty're King.

The deaths of two black men and one boy at the hands of Columbus Police between 2016 and 2017 captured media attention and riled up communities. At the center of all three families' justice-seeking actions was Amber Evans, an activist with the criminal justice reform group People's Justice Project (PJP).

“I started to get more and more burned out,” Evans said. “It became so much of a need to take a break, but then there were a couple of us that were still in the fire, in the thick of it.”

Evans had additional stressors specific to being a black woman in the organizing community. “Sometimes there's this desire for people to understand the pain of black women in a way that's almost like an extraction,” she said. “There's the practice of seeing black women as powerful and, unfortunately, in some types of organizing spaces, there's an attachment to black women that isn't necessarily healthy. … So I think sometimes in order to advance the work, black women are tokenized.”

Evans said she was left feeling hardened and fearful of her authentic story being adopted by others.

“And so I think coming into Zora's House, knowing that my experiences are authentically similar to the other women in this space, it felt more like a space of being held and less of a space of being used,” she said.

It's also been a space of growth for Evans, who recently became the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization serving the youth in Ohio's juvenile justice system. But she was inspired to develop her own firm, Blk Sage, “after having so many different discussions in this sanctuary space with women of color,” she said of Zora's House. “I talked about my frustrations and their frustrations with the way our social justice landscape is and how it isolates black women.”

Blk Sage will focus on creating “social, political and economic strategies to advance electoral politics” while centering black women, Evans said. “[It's] meant to be a space where we can identify new leadership to be more representative and reflective of our democracy.”

As a Zora's House ambassador, Evans sees her role not only as preparing the space, but providing personal greetings, facilitating brainstorming and being a soundboard. “[It's] wanting women to come into the space and feel like they're taken care of,” she said.

Evans is excited about future “life classes” — women sharing their experiences navigating family dynamics or starting their own businesses — at Zora's House.

For Evans, Zora's House is one of two black-women-owned businesses in Columbus that provide self-restoration. She also patronizes Replenish Spa, which offers yoga and beauty services Downtown.

“I think with Zora's House, it's a different type of self-care,” she said. “Like the self that you are working towards becoming.”