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Dress for Success honors Zuma Zabala for her role in empowering women in Cleveland

Posted at 8:03 AM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 08:08:50-05

CLEVELAND — Dress for Success is honoring a Cleveland woman who uplifts and empowers women in under-served communities. When Zuma Zabala was CEO of The East End Neighborhood House, she credited her success to the implementation of the South African philosophy called Ubuntu. While she is no longer at the organization, she continues to make a difference in any role she serves.

"The introduction to the Ubuntu philosophy as a way of showing up for caring for one another, seeing ourselves in each other. Ubuntu made us come closer as a team," she said about her work at East End, which provides a range of social services for children, families and seniors in Cleveland.

Zabala is a notable speaker, educator and advocate. Her mother inspired her and shaped her as a woman to lead with passion and purpose.

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Zuma Zabala.

"She said I was always there for other people. I was always defending others and I've done that in my work at East End," she said.

A key focus of her work is to raise awareness about cultural humility so that all voices are heard and valued.

"Cultural humility comes for the understanding that none of us can be fully competent in anything. We have to continuously be learning. So when we want to learn about other cultures, we have to be humble, we have to show humility," Zabala said.

Most clients serviced by East End Neighborhood House are women, so partnering with Dress for Success was a natural fit.

"We have forged a relationship where we can continue to serve women. Like Dress for Success, for instance, bringing their services here to East End, or women can have access to those things that Dress for Success has to offer," she explained.

When she found out she was being honored for Dress For Success, it took her by surprise.

"When Melody called me I thought it was a call about what are we going to do next (laughs), some other activity, some other initiative," she said. "I do what I do because this is who I am. but I have to be honest to be recognized for your commitment and compassion and passion for the work that you do, it feels good."

Zabala has recently transitioned to a new position as the Senior Fellow for Community and Racial Equity for The Center for Community Solutions. She is still advocating for uniting and giving under-served communities a voice and a seat at the table.

"I wish for us to show up as our best selves as humans for one another. That doesn't dismiss our differences, our history, our differences, right? But to really deeply see each other as human beings. Be our best selves for one another. And if I can inspire that in just some small way, then that is my legacy," she said.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.