'We need this': How 1 organization is creating a space for black people to grieve

Ethel's Club, a New York-based social and wellness club, is offering free grief sessions with therapists following George Floyd's death.
Amandla Baraka

In the wake of George Floyd's death, one organization is creating a space for members of the black community to grieve and heal.

In November 2019, Ethel's Club opened its doors. It is a membership-based social club and wellness space specifically designed with people of color in mind as a place to spend time together, network and build community. And that space has never been more important than right now.

Its founder, Naj Austin, said she was deliberate in developing the Brooklyn-based club, named after her community organizer grandmother, as a space for people of color that embodies her grandmother's spirit and legacy.

"Outside of situations where people are murdered or attacked by police or other people, there's microaggressions and aggressions that people of color and black people live with every day," Austin told TMRW. "As a black woman navigating white spaces, it was important for me to have a space that I didn't have to kind of walk in with caution and didn't have to worry about the cops being called, things like that."

Ethel's Club founder and CEO Naj Austin.Amandla Baraka / Ethel's Club

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical clubhouse has been forced to close its doors, but has pivoted to digital meetings and virtual get-togethers.

After George Floyd died while being arrested by police in Minneapolis, Austin said that the organization wanted to offer support and help to its members and other followers.

"Something that is common when you have situations like what we're witnessing now is that people want to go out, and they want to fight, they want to protest, they want to go out and do," she said. "It's very rare that you have organizations or companies that allow for those people to have a place to unwind and grieve and take a moment and breathe."

Austin said that she's always believed in the importance of taking a moment to just sit and absorb everything going on: Even before the Floyd protests, the clubhouse offered group sessions with therapists of color to members and non-members alike. Now the sessions are online, but Austin said that more people are interested than ever before.

Last week, Ethel's Club announced it would be hosting two free healing and grieving sessions for the black community led by black therapists on June 9 and June 23 to "help hold space and process the weight of the many complex emotions that we are feeling and carrying right now." The response was immediate. Over 1,000 people signed up for the sessions in less than a day.

"You’ve been such an anchor during such an incredibly difficult time. Thank you team for all that you do," one follower wrote on the post announcing the events. "We need this right now," echoed another.

"We had to shut the forum down," Austin said. "The way we had pitched it to our therapists was 'Oh, it'll be this, like, little online therapy session,' and then I had to email them and be like 'So, there's 500 people attending each night.' And they were like 'What?'"

A third session was quickly added, and Austin and her team redeveloped the structure of the event to do the most good for the most people.

"It was going to be just a talking circle, but because of the sheer number of people who are attending it we're running it much more pragmatically," Austin explained, saying that the sessions will include activities like meditation, therapists talking to the group as a whole and allowing space for people to share their own stories.

"We're trying to make it really feel like a moment of release."