Building Wealth and Starting Legacies: Women of Color Shape Their Own Futures

A new financial health program for women launches in Columbus with support from JPMorgan Chase.

June 27, 2022

When LC Johnson moved to Columbus, Ohio from North Carolina in 2015, she was navigating a period of transition in her career. She was looking for community and the opportunity to connect with like-minded women of color activists, entrepreneurs, creatives, and professionals. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she began to build it. Zora’s House—the only co-working space and leadership incubator in the state of Ohio for women of color, and one of very few in the country—was born.

While in the process of creating programs for Zora’s House, Johnson met many women like herself—women of color who, as first-generation wealth builders, were in a position to transform their lives and communities, but needed broader financial knowledge, experience and connections.

“Women of color are increasingly the heads of their households and the financial decision makers of the family,” Johnson says. “When they are able to thrive, their families and communities also thrive. The work we do provides previously unavailable resources, opportunities and skills supports women of color and transforms the world around them.”

Despite the responsibilities they shoulder, women of color continue to suffer the most severe gender wage gap; in 2021, Black women earned 64 percent of what non-Hispanic white workers were paid, and the typical white American family holds roughly 10 times as much wealth as the typical African American or Latino family.

Many of the women of Zora's House are familiar with a version of Johnson’s story—childhood poverty, homelessness, one of the first in their families to attend college. They are, perhaps, the first in their families to ever own a home, make six figures or have retirement plans. They may also be the first in their families to consider investing, buying life insurance, planning for wills and retirement—and they may also lack personal networks for financial advice on how to protect and grow their accumulating wealth.

“There’s a lot of focus on the folks of color who are at the lowest end of the spectrum, and obviously there’s a lot of work to do there,” Johnson says. “But people of color also exist outside of poverty, across this whole wide spectrum. When we focus on that middle-income woman who is stable, has a job, and good credit, we can start talking about wealth.

Like building wealth, building an organization requires support, resources and vision. After Courtney Falato, program officer for Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, saw a grant application from Zora’s House and knew she and Johnson had something to talk about.

Their conversations resulted in two philanthropic investments from JPMorgan Chase. The first, awarded in 2021, helped launch a financial health program that began with a three-day retreat focused on trauma and healing around finances, followed by a year of meeting with peers and financial professionals to build networks. Beyond the nuts and bolts of finance, the program also explored the legacy of financial barriers and inequities that weaves throughout the culture and history of immigrants and women—many who, like Johnson, descend from enslaved people and sharecroppers.

The second investment, awarded in 2022, is a collaborative grant with seven women-led organizations, including the Women’s Fund of Ohio and the Columbus College of Art & Design. Together, these groups launched a 24-month equitable design institute to train two cohorts of women of color to develop solutions for challenges they face, from housing insecurity to lack of transportation and childcare. The institute will be headquartered at Zora’s House.

“The way to create a more equitable Columbus is to draw on the lived experience of women of color,” says Falato. “They’re the ones who can both identify problems and create sustainable solutions that will serve their specific needs and address the barriers they face through systems change and capacity building, solutions that will make a real difference in their lives, their legacies and also in the greater community.”

JPMorgan Chase’s support of Zora’s House is part of its 2020 $30 billion commitment to help close the racial wealth gap and advance economic inclusion by providing more equitable access to financial opportunities for Black, Hispanic, Latino, and underserved communities.

Learn more about how JPMorgan Chase is making an impact in Ohio.