By Darlene Donloe
CRENSHAW — Going to the club has taken on a whole new meaning, one that doesn’t include a DJ, loud music, a dance floor, or a bar, but rather poignant conversation, creativity, and a community space where everyone feels respected.
It’s called The Metaphor Club, and it’s located in the heart of the Black community — on purpose, according to Lawrence Ross, one of four friends who opened the space in August 2018. The other co-owners, all members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, include Jimar Wilson, Lawrence Gilliam and Gerald Rawles.
The idea for The Club, which is currently closed due to COVID-19, came to fruition after Ross, an author (“The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities,” and “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses”), flew to Philadelphia for a book signing and liked what he saw at Marc Lamont Hill’s ‘Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books.’
“It was an intentional space,” Ross said. “It’s beautiful. It has a community center. He made a decision to create a space where Black folks could come and be comfortable. It was functional. The community could have lectures. I thought we should do something like that.”
Ross, 54, who used to write at Magic’s Starbucks in Ladera Heights before it closed, said he approached his frat brothers about producing a creative co-working space on Crenshaw Boulevard, and all agreed it was a worthwhile venture.
“We used to always say we are of Crenshaw, not in spite of Crenshaw,” Ross said. “We’re from West Adams, Inglewood, Leimert Park and we wanted people to know you can have an intentional presence here in the community. That’s why we opened The Metaphor Club.”
Ross said he, Gilliam, Wilson, and Rawles, all of whom live within five minutes of The Metaphor Club, worked well together because they all understood the strategy of what they were going to do and how to go about it.
“We all have a core character and a passion for Black folks,” said Ross, a college lecturer. “You gotta love Black people. Here, we all can be our authentic Black selves.”
When he first thought about the space, Ross, who graduated from UC Berkeley received his master’s from UCLA, said he envisioned it as a “vehicle of Black creativity.”
“It’s gotten bigger than what I first imagined,” said Ross, a writer who understands the challenges of Black creatives. “We learned quickly how much people really appreciate the space. We envisioned a space for writers, artists, filmmakers from around the country all coming to Metaphor to work and collaborate.”
After looking at several spaces, the quartet settled on the old Gobble Green, a restaurant that had been closed for about five years.
“It’s kind of an experiment until the first person walks through the door,” Ross said. “Our members immediately got it. It’s a space that is unapologetically Black. We always joke how this is the one space you don’t have to whisper about white people.
“We have white members and we have Black members. They all have no problem being here. This is a Black-centered space. It’s a communal experience where people feel safe.”
The Metaphor Club members include older millennials, Gen Xers, a lot of academics, and Black professors, who Ross calls “Blackademics,” who gather at the facility one Friday a month as a networking opportunity with college students.
The purpose of the club, whose motto is “Write. Create. Relax.,” is not only to be a place of fellowship that brings a diverse group of people together, it’s also to give creatives a boost.
“We’re not exclusive,” Ross said. “You walk in and people know who you are. We have fun here. There is an egalitarian feel to the space. You shouldn’t have to worry about gaining access somewhere. You should have access. That’s the ethos of our space.”
While it’s a co-working space, The Metaphor Club, comprised of four separate spaces on Crenshaw, is more than that.
“This block had been dormant,” Ross said. “We sparked it up. It’s an investment in our community. The main space is a co-working space. Next door is the Meta-Flow, which is a rental space.”
There is also a Metapod and #Renaissance100, a 10-year Metaphor Club project involving 500 brands supporting more than 5,000 Black creatives. It pays homage to the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
There is also a Meta-LAB four doors down from the main space.
“It’s kind of two different spaces,” Ross said. “One is a quiet space for people who don’t want to be in a communal workspace, and then in the back of that is a podcast video spot. Since last year, we’ve been working on a complete film studio where we will do original content. People can also rent it. You can literally walk in and do your show.”
Currently, The Metaphor Club, with its comfy furniture, bold art, and welcoming spirit, boasts 150-200 members, some of whom live out of state. Its popularity has grown by leaps and bounds and is considered the largest Black-owned co-working space in Los Angeles.
Membership at The Metaphor Club is $99 per month or $19.99 a day. The memberships cover the space and free gourmet coffee.
“I’ve seen spaces that are $500 and higher,” Ross said. “Why do I have to leave my neighborhood? We want it so our community would actually use it. We want different people here from different socio-economic backgrounds and different ages.”
Programming at The Metaphor Club includes “Metaread Cold Table,” a chance for members to get feedback on their screenplays. Each writer is charged $20 for the chance, and the money is used to buy pizza.
Other programs include “Edge of the Stage,” designed to deconstruct the lecture; “Live From the Metaphor Club,” where interviews are conducted with Black Hollywood professionals.
Ken Powers, who wrote, “Soul,” currently airing on Netflix, is a member. Others who have been interviewed in the space include author Walter Moseley, journalist Jemele Hill, Anthony Sparks (‘Queen Sugar’ showrunner), “Insecure” writer, and co-executive producer Amy Aniobi; and James Lopez, the president of Will Packer Studio (“Almost Christmas” and “Girls Trip”).
The Metaphor Club, described as a sexy pairing of a social club and co-working space where members collaborate, learn, and vibe together, is a place to foster a feeling of community and oneness.
“You don’t have to have the same point of view,” Ross said. “We are all different. When it comes down to coming into this community, you feel safe and are able to express yourself and talk to others. It’s a feeling of dope Black people doing dope Black things. There are a thousand places out here that don’t care. We are the place where people give a damn. We’re not just a place, we’re a space.”
The Metaphor Club has two rules, according to Ross. 1. If there is ever a car chase on TV, members have to stop what they’re doing and root for the alleged criminal. 2. If a member ever wins an award, they must thank the people they love. Then they have to get super emotional, let a Denzel Washington “Glory” tear roll down their cheek, and thank The Metaphor Club.
The Metaphor Club is located at 4333 S. Crenshaw Blvd. Pre-pandemic hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org