As a black creative living and working in Los Angeles, the search to find spaces that both accommodate my lifestyle and give me the fellowship and creative boost I need can be hard and often times disappointing.
Traditional coworking spaces are everywhere in L.A., but they are expensive and can be just as isolating as working at home for one very specific reason—they are overwhelmingly white.
This is not an argument for segregated workspaces, but rather an acknowledgment that as black creatives, we tend to need more than just a space to work. We need fellowship. We need camaraderie. We need a space to safely discuss topics that impact us—whether that be political news or information on jobs and opportunities for black people. We need a salon where we can build, inspire and be inspired by people who look, talk, think and sound like us—people who can relate.
It was this type of thinking that led four men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to open a space across the street from Leimert Park—the black mecca of Los Angeles—where black creatives could come, work, talk, meet, greet and be happy.
Lawrence Ross, Lawrence Gilliam, Jimar Wilson and Gerald Rawles are the founders of the Metaphor Club, a black social club situated right on Crenshaw Boulevard.
Even as a new train to Los Angeles’ busy airport and the ever-present specter of gentrification threaten to change the landscape of the neighborhood, the block that the Metaphor Club sits on is a defiant holdout—all the businesses are still unapologetically black, creating an environment where you can work, eat, drink and be merry in decidedly black spaces while recycling black dollars.
The four founders of the Metaphor Club put up their own money to self-fund and open up a space and make, as Ross put it, “an investment in the community.”
While some may try to box it in as a coworking space, Ross sees it as so much more.
“We don’t look at ourselves as a coworking space,” Ross said. “We are the third space between home and work. We wholeheartedly want to be the epicenter of black intellectual creativity in the world. We want to be that place where you come work and talk. It’s a 21st century salon for black folks.”
Ross describes it as an incubator—a place where people can come, be nurtured in their art, learn and grow.
“We want to make this a space where young talent can thrive and build up their resume,” he said. “We are not about doing the same old thing.”
So far, the club is living up to that definition.
On its opening weekend, Joan Morgan—who wrote She Begat This: 30 Years of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—visited the club on Aug. 25 to do a talk about her book.
Morgan’s visit was followed the next day by James Lopez—executive producer of Almost Christmas, Girls Trip, and the upcoming Night School—who discussed his journey from the music industry to working in film. Lopez also discussed creating his own opportunities and his initiative to go for the opportunities that he saw for himself.
The founders of the club see these talks and gatherings as a way of helping younger creatives see a vision for themselves while allowing older and established creatives to have a way of reaching back.
The traditional salon-style club—with its wooden spool tables, office chairs, comfortable couches and bean bags as well as barstool setups for those who require a little isolated time to work—is complemented by a wide open space next door called MetaFlow. Club members, as well as the general public, can rent it to put on special events, classes and workshops.
Calida Rawles, wife of one of the founders and an artist herself, hosted two sketch-and-sip events where 30 women gathered together to sip tequila and sketch the nude form of a model by the name of Master Piece. And yes, before you ask, he was indeed a masterpiece with a master piece.
The other MetaWives—Anndretta Wilson, a college professor; April Ross, a professional makeup artist; and Nikki Gilliam, a teacher at the local neighborhood middle school—all actively participate in using the club as a workspace and attend events at MetaFlow. Ross plans to have an event called “Fix Your Face” where women can come to learn about makeup from her.
It’s the type of space where anything can happen. This past Sunday, I lucked up on the opportunity to host a Q&A with Amy Aniobi, writer and co-executive producer of Insecure who has also worked on 2 Dope Queens and Silicon Valley. It was an intimate conversation that covered being a creative in Hollywood, working in decided black spaces after having been “the only one” in decidedly white ones. Attendees got to ask questions, take pics and converse with Amy one-on-one after the event.
It’s just the type of environment the founders of the club wanted to foster and create. In the future, they are looking to add more programming and have plans to have more featured guests such as Ken Whittingham—a Hollywood television director for shows like Black-ish, Roland Martin from NewsOne, and Professor Crunk herself, Brittney Cooper.
“You cannot co-opt this to be anything other than what it is—an unapologetically black space,” Wilson told me.
“When you think of coworking spaces, you pay a fee to get in, but the dominating force there is white people. This is a social club, not just a coworking space. It’s much more than that. We do programming and we meet the needs of people in the community in more than one way. It’s not just for people to come and work—it’s for people to connect,” Wilson said.
So far, the Metaphor Club is showing up and showing out—being exactly what its founders intended.
The Metaphor Club is located at 4333 S. Crenshaw Blvd in Los Angeles. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. Memberships cost $79.99 a month and come with the workspace and all the free gourmet coffee and tea you can drink.
I bought a membership because it also comes with black fellowship, and that is something I need on a daily basis.
Membership at the Metaphor Club has its privileges. If you are in the Los Angeles area, drop by and pay them a visit.