Cover: Zora's House Member Cat Parker

Erica Thompson

Michelle Alexander is a lawyer, civil rights advocate and New York Times columnist. She is most known for her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She is also a visitor to Zora's House.

“I'm freaking out because she's sitting across from me, and I don't think people knew who she was,” said Cat Parker, who spotted the celebrated author at a Writing Circle event. “One time she actually commented on a poem that I had written. … I think I needed that validation from someone like her.”

Parker first received recognition for her writing when she penned a poem in her third grade class.

“I think it was about a ladybug or something,” she said. “[My teacher] put it on the front door of the classroom for the entire school year. … I was like, ‘This is something that I'm going to pursue somehow in my life.'”

Currently, Parker works as a logistics manager, but Zora's House has given her an outlet for her passion. “I was yearning for a place where I can just be around black women who have similar interests as me,” she said. “I came across Zora's House a couple days after that on Facebook.”

Each month at the Writing Circle, Zora's House facilitators provide women with writing prompts, and space to share their work.

“Some people get really emotional, and that's where I see the power of it,” Parker said. “It's not very often you find things like this where black people can coexist in a positive way.”

While Parker shares her work, she finds that listening is just as transformative.

“I realized, ‘Wow, my story is so similar to all these other women who come here,'” she said. “I think it's the plight of the black woman. We just overextend ourselves. … Everyone is being pulled in all these directions, but they're still positive and strong. It's just empowering and shows how resilient we are.”

When it comes to her own personal development, Parker thinks a career change may be in order down the line.

“I'm at a place now where I'm thinking, ‘OK, how can I utilize my skill for the benefit of others?'” she said. “I want to be like the next J.K. Rowling, but for black kids. … I think I can connect with the youth through writing.”

Parker also has ambitions to serve the black community by teaching yoga or other forms of health and wellness. And she has been motivated watching LC Johnson bring her Zora's House vision to life.

“It inspires me, because I definitely want to branch out and become an entrepreneur in some way,” she said.

Parker also said she'd like to get more involved at Zora's House, expressing a desire to team up with other members to do community work beyond the walls.

“If it wasn't black-owned and it wasn't about empowering women, and if it didn't have all these cool things going on, I probably wouldn't be here,” she said. “I know it's in its infancy, but I see it becoming something really big in Columbus.”