Zuberi Yara's vision of a welcoming space for African American women has come to life with help from a MBE loan program.

Editor's Note: This profile is the first in the Emerging Business series launched by Columbus CEO in partnership with Economic and Community Development Institute. It is intended to celebrate the stories of minority entrepreneurs, give companies ideas about how to diversify the roster of partners they do business with, and inspire future founders who might not know how to go about starting a business.

After retiring from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2012 where she spent 20 years as a licensed counselor, Zuberi Yara skipped the usual retirement plan and instead went into private practice. Last year, she added another line to her resume when she opened Southern Roots Sistah Center. Yara, a New Orleans native and a veteran of the National Guard, says it was a long-held goal of hers to open a center that caters to women of color.

“I’ve always known that I would be a counselor. I’ve always known that I would do work with women,” Yara says. “Even when I go home to visit, no one is surprised that I’m doing this. When I do go home, we get together—we have about 20, 30 women—at my sister’s home, and we just talk. We talk about any and everything, and we’re there until two or three o’clock in the morning, just processing what it’s like to be a woman, especially a woman of color.”

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Yara purchased the building on East Livingston Avenue, a former hair salon, in April 2018 for $130,000 with a loan from the Minority Business Direct Loan program, which is run by the Ohio Development Services Agency’s Minority Business Development Division. Besides housing Southern Roots Sistah Center, the building also includes Yara’s private practice. A barber shop rents space in the building as well. 

Created in 1998, the loan program is open to certified minority business enterprises. 

Yara learned about the program at an event she attended and says although the loan process took longer than it would if she had gone through a bank, it was worth it in terms of savings. “If I had gone conventional, the loan would have been so much more,” she says. The loan has a 3 percent fixed interest rate for 15 years, and Yara had to put in $25,000 to $30,000 of her own money when purchasing the building. For the fiscal year ending June 2019, the division received more than 60 requests for direct loans, says Dan Bowerman, public information officer for the Development Services Agency. Thirty were reviewed and four were awarded loans for a total of $2.86 million.

Since opening in October, Southern Roots Sistah Center has held a variety of events including a discussion with Morgan Harper, a Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District, relationship workshops, pop-up shops and spoken word. Yara’s workshops range from the philosophical—breaking down the myth of the “strong black woman”—to the practical such as helping parents navigate Columbus City Schools. 

Currently, Yara sees about 15 patients a week through her private practice. Eventually, she would like to decrease the number to 10 so she has more time to focus on Southern Roots Sistah Center. 

Keith Peterson, who has known Yara for 20 years and worked with her at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says she often talked about opening a women’s center. “I encouraged her to follow her heart desire for working with women using a wellness approach,” Peterson says via email. “There is a need for preventative services for women who do not meet criteria for mental health services.”

Ultimately, Yara sees the center as a haven for women. It’s a place where, as the name implies, sisterhood is created through shared experiences. 

Brittany Moseley is assistant digital editor for Dispatch Magazines.