Naj Austin Is Building a Healing, More Inclusive Space for People of Color
The founder of Ethel's Club is changing the way people of color connect and practice self-care at home.
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When Naj Austin first launched Ethel's Club, a subscription-based social and wellness platform designed to celebrate people of color, in November of 2019, the plan was to use their brick-and-mortar clubhouse in Brooklyn as a place for members to meet in person and connect. "I was inspired to start Ethel's Club because I wanted a place where I could go to feel better connected with myself and others," says Austin.
By March 2020, the growing COVID-19 pandemic was dramatically impacting how business was conducted, including prohibiting large gatherings of people. However, instead of defeat, Austin saw opportunity. "We were open for about four months before coronavirus happened, and made the decision to continue creating space for our community through online experiences," she says. Today, Ethel's Club membership base boasts over 1,500 members.
Austin drew from her own childhood experiences when dreaming up the idea of Ethel's Club. Her grandmother, Ethel Lucas, was a fixture in a tight-knit Black community, and Austin saw firsthand how Lucas' home served as a sanctuary for people to connect and socialize. Inspired to create a space like her grandmother's, where people of color could gather, converse, and explore wellness and creativity, she launched Ethel's Club in honor of her legacy. "I envisioned a space that centered on wellness and creativity through a reflection of my Black experience," she explains. "Those ideas shaped what ended up becoming Ethel's Club."
Along with hosting intimate group conversations around a variety of holistic wellness practices, Ethel's Club offers an assortment of live-streamed classes and events geared toward art, culture, and self-care. "We offer everything from yoga and breathwork classes to discussions with licensed mental health practitioners, career resources, and more," Austin says. "We believe there are many ways to be 'well' and we want to support our members through their personal journeys."
In addition to a packed calendar of virtual events, Ethel's Club is also home to a variety of online clubs, where members can "connect, vibe, and thrive" with other members of color across a range of topics, including beauty, books, music, writing, and more. "We are sparking the next renaissance with people of color at the forefront," says Austin.
By providing both physical and digital spaces for people of color to network and partake in wellness-minded activities, Austin says Ethel's Club supplies members with resources for creative inspiration and communal care. For instance, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Ethel's Club offered free grieving sessions. "At Ethel's Club, we see our members as unique individuals that deserve care, celebration, and healing," says Austin. "We believe that when given the tools to thrive, they can create new worlds and come together as a community."
Presently, Austin is preparing to launch Somewhere Good, a mobile app designed to empower and connect people of color by providing access to communities devoted to art, music, and wellness, as well as e-commerce opportunities. The platform is slated to go live sometime in early 2021, but prospective members can sign up for access today. "After growing Ethel's Club over the last few months we saw an amazing opportunity to expand our vision with Somewhere Good," she explains.
Looking forward, Austin sees the future of Ethel's Club as a global and immersive experience that gives members streamlined access to resources that help improve their personal well-being and health. "Ethel's Club is a dynamic community made to center, ground and inspire--we're excited to continue moving the world forward in terms of centering wellness and joy for people of color," says Austin.