Ethels Club, A Social Workspace For People of Color, Opens This Summer

After years of working in real estate and tech, Naj Austin noticed that there was a “chronic lack of representation” of people of color in those industries. The realization prompted her to create a private club and workspace designed with people of color in mind. And so, Ethels Club was born. “This same deficit of genuine representation is very much reflected in many of the third spaces, including social clubs that many of us rely on for our social nucleus, professional network and cultural anchor,” the 27-year-old told The North Star.

After two years of searching for a club that catered to people of color, Austin said she decided to establish Ethels Club. The brick and mortar space will allow members to "reclaim and redefine the parts of themselves that have been repressed and neglected.” “I created Ethels Club to be a safe space that allows the resiliency of Black and Brown culture to shine,” Austin said. “A space that sees your color and celebrates it, every day. A place where you never have to defend your humanity.”

The new club and workspace is scheduled to open in Bushwick or Bed-Stuy later this summer. Austin said she has a personal connection to Brooklyn, as her father was born in Park Slope. “I also think the vibrancy and spirit that I’ve felt here as a Black woman, is synonymous with the culture we are trying to build within Ethels Club,” she told The North Star. She said that Ethels Club is not being modeled after other workspaces or clubs. “We are creating something that doesn’t exist yet,” Austin said. “There are no spaces that boldly incorporate and center POC identity in the manner that we are. Everything we are doing is done with the utmost intention to honor and uplift POC spirit… It’s incredibly important to our team to make sure that we unabashedly exist as a way to help heal and better people of color.”

Austin turned to private equity and a crowdfunding campaign on iFundWomen to open the club’s first location. On May 7, Austin said that the campaign was going “amazingly” and had reached 90 percent of its goal. More than 200 backers have pledged $22,575 of the $25,000 goal with less than a week left to go. “The support we’ve received thus far has been global and we are so humbled and excited to bring our vision to life,” she said. According to Ethels Club’s fundraising page, the club hopes to partner with different organizations and companies to host events for members. Austin said that membership will be application-based and that members will be required to pay a monthly fee to access the club space, programming, and events. Ethels Club will offer three tiers of membership, which will open in June.

“Our mission in building a network of branded spaces is to shift the narrative around what it means to be Brown and gather,” Austin told The North Star. “Our spaces empower our members and the communities in which they live, work, and create. As a member of Ethels Club, we want you to experience that another world is possible — one that centers and embraces POC identity in every way possible.”

There is a long history of people of color creating their own spaces in order to socialize and network professionally. Author and activist Victoria Earle Matthews created the first Black women’s club in New York City, called the Women’s Loyal Union, in 1892, The New York Times reported.

Several social clubs for communities of color existed in the 1950s and ‘60s, but their numbers dwindled over the years. There are few clubs in New York City that cater to people of color today, including Toñitas in Brooklyn, Langston’s in New York City, and The Gentlemen’s Factory in Central Brooklyn. Ethels Club is set to join the list in August.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.