Naj Austin, Brooklyn, NY
We visit the home of Naj Austin, the founder of Ethel’s Club, a social space and digital platform that centres and celebrates people of colour. Named for Naj’s grandmother, Ethel Lucas, the club echoes Ethel’s belief in community, celebration and care. We spoke to Naj about settling into a new home amidst the pandemic, building a meaningful business and navigating this turbulent but powerful moment in time.
“We moved to this apartment in June amid stay in place orders here in New York. Our lease was up and we wanted a little more room and more of a neighborhood vibe we weren’t getting in Bushwick. My favorite thing about this apartment is all of the small architectural details and historical nods – just the other day I noticed we have stained glass windows in our kitchen and little dragons carved into the walls of our bedroom.”
“My favorite thing about New York is how a day can be delightfully never-ending. You can spend your day in three boroughs, diving in and out of a variety of cultures through food, music, art etc. I’ve lived in NYC for ten years and it still has so much vibrancy and never gets old to me. My current neighborhood is new to me, but everyone is so kind and friendly. Walking to the coffee shop I’ll stop and chat with about five different people.”
My favorite thing about New York is how a day can be delightfully never-ending. You can spend your day in three boroughs, diving in and out of a variety of cultures through food, music, art etc.
“My books which are spread out around the apartment are very special. I used to be very precious about them – making sure they were alphabetized and neatly put away. Now, I want them accessible and everywhere so I can flip through or stumble upon a book I haven’t seen or read in a long time.”
Ethel’s Club opened its doors in 2019 as a space to celebrate and centre people of colour. Image by Amandla Baraka.
“I have always craved and sought out spaces and communities that made me feel safe. Whenever I enter a space, I always hope that I’m able to leave my burdens at the door and feel fully comfortable in all facets of my identity. However, as a Black woman, this often isn’t my reality. And when I started to look particularly within the landscape of social clubs and other third spaces, I found this to be even less of the case. That’s when the wheels really began to turn and the idea of Ethel’s Club became less of an idea and more of a necessity that had to be created. Our clubhouse -- both online and IRL truly considers and understands what it’s like to be a person of color navigating the world. Our community is meant to inspire, heal and empower.”
I have always craved and sought out spaces and communities that made me feel safe.
Image by Amandla Baraka.
“We’ve always been very intentional about what our community stands for and what we believe in – from the very beginning we found other people around the world who wanted to be a part of what we were creating. We believe there is both power and safety in shared, collective experience. People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded, considered or discriminated against. The creative, professional and social potential that comes with being able to bring your full self to the table is what we hope our members can access and achieve through a people-of-color-centered space. It’s been a very humbling experience, watching a seed of an idea turn into a movement that supports and empowers so many people.”
People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded, considered or discriminated against.
A focus on wellness in everyday life is another aspect of Ethel’s Club that sets it apart from many other social clubs and something Naj has a strong personal connection to.
“I believe wellness is an individual journey, which is why we offer so many frameworks around what it means at Ethel’s Club. We have meditation workshops, yoga classes, afrofuturist healing etc. I personally define wellness by asking myself a simple question: “will this bring me joy?” Right now, the world feels so full of change and uncertainty, shifting every day. By using the time I have to ground myself in practicing the things that I love, those acts of self care and joy help center and fulfill my needs, one moment at a time.”
Naj reflects on her experience in New York as the Black Lives Matters movement gained momentum over the past few months.
“As a Black woman that builds products centering and celebrating people of color, making sure that Black folks feel seen and connected has always been important to me. The reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has made me show up for my community in a different way -- I’m now hyper focused on creating spaces that bring them joy and make them feel healthy and happy amid so much chaos and death.”
As a Black woman that builds products centering and celebrating people of color, making sure that Black folks feel seen and connected has always been important to me.
“I’ve started meditating every day (for about ten minutes - it’s a start!) and reading again. I’m reading All About Love by Bell Hooks and it’s bringing me so much joy. I highly recommend taking screen breaks and focusing on the positive (wherever you can find it) as much as you can.”
“I don’t have too much free time outside of the club, but I’ve been spending a lot of my time going to Prospect Park and zoning out/getting off of my phone for a few hours. I’ll usually bring a book, a few snacks and pretend I’m somewhere else.”
“[For the rest of this year] We’re building out our digital membership platform which has been really exciting to work on as a team. We’re providing a space for people of color around the world to feel seen - it’s a really empowering feeling.”