Two Chicagoans are working to bring a new business—one part coffee shop, one part co-working space, one-part events venue—centering Black and queer identities to Lake View.
Co-founder M. Rashaad Barnett said he envisions the business, to be named Take Up Space, as “a leader in co-working and community that defies the need for barriers of entry to find community with peers in the professional world.”
Barnett and his co-founder, Kolbey Gardner, said that they want to open Take Up Space this fall. Until then, the pair are raising funds for the business, and undergoing a marketing campaign getting the word out their space will be especially welcoming for Black and LGBTQ+ visitors. Barnett said that that focus will be apparent from the coffee that Take Up Space sells and the speakers that they book.
Even the wording on Take Up Space’s website reflects that focus, he added, noting a social media campaign that would highlight “Take Up Space-isms,” catchphrases that would communicate the business’ identity.
“One Take Up Space-ism is simply ‘respect the space,’” Barnett said. That’s not necessarily Black colloquial, but it is aligned with creating rules in an inviting, community-oriented way.”
He added that he, Gardner and members of their team, were acutely conscious that their marketing campaign may seem unorthodox by its focus on Black and LGBTQ+ Chicagoans.
“There is a thought that if something is ‘professional’ that it has to be aligned with Euro-centric standards,” Barnett explained. “I think we can defy that in a lot of ways…I think the sky’s the limit.”
Lake View is a neighborhood viewed by many as unwelcoming to its BIPOC visitors and has been dogged by allegations of racism on the part of some business owners, residents and other visitors. As such, there’s been a call for LGBTQ+-centered resources in other parts of Chicago.
“Both Rashaad and I are deeply invested in our communities,” said Gardner. “…The community is diverse and deserves to be celebrated, having a space for themselves. That’s what our space is meant to do.”
It was Gardner who first surprised his friend Barnett with the idea for a Black LGBTQ+ workspace, announcing it after Barnett had just returned from a long work trip.
“I replied, ‘That’s great—we need something else,’” Barnett recalled. Nevertheless, the pair eventually decided to pursue Gardner’s original notion. Barnett is a diversity, equity and inclusion professional so, he said, “I get a kick out of creating opportunities and spaces for people to learn and develop.”
He also admitted that he pursued Take Up Space because, once he reached his thirties, he became acutely aware that American adults can feel like their communities and opportunities are no longer being invested in.
After pursuing their education and entering the working world, Barnett said, adults get a collective sense of, “‘Oh my God, this is the world and we’re on our own.’ It’s really nice to have something that says, ‘Hey, we’re not going to hold your hand, but we’re going to give you opportunities for community.’”
Those opportunities, he added, would be based on intellectual pursuits and interests. Gardener added, however, that Take Up Space would allow its visitors to have a good time.
“We plan on having some really great happy hours, and some opportunities to network and collaborate,” he said.
The last few years have been difficult ones for co-working spaces, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulties at startups such as WeWork.
Barnett said there is “a workforce out there that is going into independent work, that is going into being their own boss, and don’t have the fund to do a premium membership [at businesses like WeWork]. Our model is going to be essentially a la carte. … For the public, it’s free. You have to pay for private space. We’ll have conference space, we’ll have telephone booths so that you can make a call or even do an interview on Zoom.”
But Gardner also stressed that the community-building aspect of Take Up Space is what really will set the business apart.
“[Community] will be an integral part of our business model,” he said.
Matt Simonette is the executive editor of Windy City Times.
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.