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Restoring Black Heritage: Elizabeth Gay's Mission with Ìpàdé in Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Gay
Elizabeth Gay
Restoring Black Heritage: Elizabeth Gay's Mission with Ìpàdé in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the third episode of the Visionaries podcast series, where we bring you inspiring stories of innovators shaping the future of work and community. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing Elizabeth Dawes Gay, the visionary founder of Ìpàdé, a remarkable meeting and event space nestled in the vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

But this isn't just any ordinary space. Ìpàdé is on a mission to reclaim the historical significance of Dupont Circle, a neighborhood that once thrived as a hub for the African American community during the Civil Rights era. Elizabeth's vision goes beyond providing a venue for gatherings—it is about restoring a sense of belonging, honoring the past, and creating a space where black Americans can feel embraced and celebrated.

In Jose Morales's conversation with Elizabeth, we explore the rich history of Dupont Circle and its connection to the African American community. We delve into the impact of gentrification and the displacement of black residents, as well as the importance of reclaiming spaces that rightfully belong to marginalized communities.

Elizabeth's passion for creating an inclusive environment extends beyond the physical space of Ìpàdé. She shares her innovative ideas and insights on building community, fostering authentic connections, and promoting holistic well-being. Whether you're a coworking space owner, a business leader, or simply someone who values inclusivity and social impact, this interview is a must-listen.

So join us as we embark on this transformative journey with Elizabeth Gay, the visionary behind Ìpàdé, and discover how her project is reshaping the landscape of work, community, and social justice.

A Few Sneak Peaks Into the Podcast

1. What is the story of Ìpàdé and its name?

Being a member of a predominantly white coworking space made me realize the need for a space that truly reflects black women and women of color. In late 2019, I embarked on a journey to bring this vision to life, but the pandemic brought everything to a halt. Determined to create a sense of community, I built an online platform to connect virtually. Finally, in 2021, we hosted in-person pop-up events and in April 2022, Ìpàdé opened its doors.

The name Ìpàdé, derived from Yoruba, signifies gathering and coming together. It represents a space where our community finds a home, embracing our culture and heritage. Ìpàdé is a welcoming environment where black women and women of color can be their authentic selves and form meaningful connections. It's a place where our community thrives and supports one another.

Ìpàdé coworking space app developed by Spacebring

Ìpàdé app developed by Spacebring

2. How does Ìpàdé empower and celebrate your identity?

Our vibrant and colorful design, inspired by African and diasporic aesthetics, reflects the richness and vibrancy of our heritage. The space is adorned with artwork by black women and women from the African diaspora, creating an environment that feels like home—a comforting and welcoming embrace. We curate books, candles, and affirmation items that represent and affirm the existence, power, and brilliance of black women.

Ìpàdé coworking space interior design

Ìpàdé is a sanctuary of warmth, inclusivity, and empowerment, where you can authentically be yourself and find the support to thrive.

3. Did you envision creating a coworking space with a pre-existing culture where people can naturally feel comfortable and embraced?

Absolutely! Our space is designed to serve as a gathering place for individuals who share a common lived experience, values, and a desire to make a positive impact. It's a place where you can connect with like-minded individuals, feel understood, and build relationships based on shared goals and passions. The culture we've cultivated celebrates diversity, empowers black individuals, and advocates for a world where everyone can thrive.

4. Is Ìpàdé intended to serve as a cultural embassy, providing a welcoming and comfortable space specifically for people of color, especially women?

Absolutely. Ìpàdé serves as a nurturing hub where individuals can grow their ideas, forge connections, and collaborate to bring positive change to their communities. It goes beyond providing physical workspaces, creating a sense of belonging and empowerment for women of color and people of color, and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.

Ìpàdé coworking space community

5. How does Ìpàdé sustain itself financially?

Ìpàdé utilizes various revenue streams to support its operations. We generate income through coworking memberships, providing individuals and organizations with workspace and meeting/event spaces. Venue rentals for private events also contribute to our financial sustainability. Additionally, we actively pursue grants to secure funding and support from government entities.

6. On average, how long do members typically stay and remain engaged with Ìpàdé?

On average, members at Ìpàdé typically stay and remain engaged for a minimum of six months. This commitment ensures that individuals have ample time to fully experience the benefits of our community and contribute to the vibrant atmosphere we have created. While membership durations may vary, this approach fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership among our members, allowing them to actively participate and thrive within our community.

7. What is Ìpàdé impact on society?

Ìpàdé has a significant impact on society at both individual and community levels. Individually, we empower and support individuals, enabling them to make a positive impact in the world.

As a business in a historically white neighborhood, we challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity and visibility for Black individuals.

Our presence and success serve as inspiration, encouraging others to pursue their dreams and create positive change in their own communities. Ìpàdé's impact extends beyond our immediate community, reaching individuals across the United States and inspiring them to create similar spaces and make a difference.

Members at Ìpàdé coworking space

8. What is unique about Ìpàdé?

What sets Ìpàdé apart is its unique position as one of the few black woman-owned coworking spaces in the Washington, D.C. area.

Situated in the heart of the city, we challenge the notion that black-owned spaces should be pushed to the periphery.

As pioneers in the industry, we provide a supportive community where black individuals, especially women, can thrive. While there may be other black woman-owned businesses in the area, Ìpàdé's focus on coworking and creating an empowering environment distinguishes us as a unique entity. We take pride in being trailblazers and contributing to a more inclusive coworking landscape.

9. What does it mean to be a safe space?

Being a safe space at Ìpàdé means creating an environment where black individuals and people of color feel secure, respected, and valued. We acknowledge the historical and present-day experiences that have made certain spaces dangerous or discriminatory for black people. At Ìpàdé, we strive to provide an inclusive and affirming environment, where individuals can bring their authentic selves without fear of judgment or negative consequences. We celebrate cultural practices and promote a sense of belonging and empowerment.

Being a safe space means offering an escape from the discomfort and discrimination that may be encountered elsewhere, fostering an atmosphere of acceptance and allowing individuals to thrive.

10. What is the significance of "networks of transformative change" in the context of Ìpàdé?

At Ìpàdé, "networks of transformative change" are essential in creating a community that fosters positive and lasting improvements. It involves empowering individuals within our community to make a difference in their own lives and extend that impact to others.

By building connections and supporting personal growth, we aim to create a ripple effect of positive change that goes beyond our physical space.

Ultimately, these networks of transformative change contribute to a better future for individuals and society as a whole.

11. Is there a risk that Ìpàdé could unintentionally become what it aims to fight against?

As the founder and CEO of Ìpàdé, I have carefully considered the risk of unintentionally becoming what we aim to fight against. It is important to navigate the influence of capitalism while staying true to our mission of economic justice and inclusivity. I have worked diligently to find a pricing structure that covers expenses while remaining accessible to our community. We actively address the challenges posed by capitalism and strive to uphold our values of economic justice, inclusion, and empowerment. The integrity of Ìpàdé and the alignment of our actions with our values are of utmost importance to me.

12. Do you have some stories of transformation that you could share?

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we organized a day of rest and restoration, focusing on self-care and creating a space for rejuvenation. We offered activities like yoga, Reiki, vision boarding, meditation, and contemplative prayer. Many attendees were unfamiliar with practices like Reiki and meditation, but they embraced the opportunity to learn and experience them.

Yoga class at Ìpàdé coworking space

The event served as a transformative experience for participants, allowing them to explore new self-care practices and understand how these activities could enhance their overall well-being. People expressed curiosity and a desire to continue incorporating these practices into their lives. By providing accessible experiences and broadening their perspectives, we empowered individuals to integrate new tools into their self-care routines, leading to personal growth and improved quality of life.

13. Do you think it would be valuable to offer transformative experiences for white individuals who want to learn more about an authentic place like Ìpàdé?

While our focus is on supporting black women and people of color, we welcome anyone who genuinely wants to engage with our authentic space. We believe that offering transformative experiences to individuals of all backgrounds is valuable for fostering understanding and progress in society. We encourage willing white individuals to join our community and explore the enriching opportunities we provide.

14. How do you imagine Ìpàdé in the future?

When I imagine the future of Ìpàdé, I see it as a vital hub for designing and hosting communities. As technology advances, it will be increasingly important to prioritize human connection and community building. At Ìpàdé, we emphasize the value of self-care and enjoying life beyond work. We will continue to provide a space where individuals can connect, find reflection, and share their experiences.

Whether the future brings changes in how we work or navigate our lives, Ìpàdé will adapt and hold space for transformative experiences.

Thank you for embarking on this remarkable journey with us as we delved into the world of coworking and entrepreneurship, uncovering inspiring stories and valuable insights along the way. Our conversation with Elizabeth Gay from Ìpàdé has shed light on the transformative power of creating an inclusive community.

But our exploration doesn't end here.

Our next destination takes us to Hatch Hubs—a coworking space and social center nestled in an old building in Southern London, with a noble mission of supporting socially vulnerable niches like students through affordable memberships. Prepare yourself for more captivating discussions and unique perspectives from coworking leaders around the globe.

To ensure you don't miss out on our upcoming episodes, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media for the latest updates and interviews. Visit our Podcast page for a treasure trove of insightful content. Coworking Smarts remains your trusted resource for all things coworking, so make it a habit to check back regularly for more exciting content.

Thank you for joining us on this enlightening journey, and we look forward to welcoming you back next time!

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