This story was originally published in the first issue of Radicle, our interactive print publication which centers Black voices and perspectives in sustainability and the environment. Radicle explores a range of topics including environmental justice, indigeneity, sustainable homebuilding, and plant-forward home cooking. The publication was designed to spark curiosity and celebrate community, all while healing our people and the planet.
The lighthearted sound of Pharrell’s music drifts from behind the wooden fence of Blk Girls Green House on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It’s 10am and a crowd gathers on the block between 33rd Street and Brockhurst Street, awaiting their entrance into the open air plant shop where they will soon meet the new plants that they will bring home. Launched at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blk Girls Green House is the latest entrepreneurial endeavor of new friends Kalkidan (Kalu) Gebreyohannes and J’Maica Roxanne. Met with overwhelming community support, the Green House is an intentionally curated gathering space situated in the midst of West Oakland.
When we (virtually) sat down with co-founders Kalu and J’Maica, we realized early on that the Green House is way more than a plant shop; it is a deliberately designed space curated to affirm Black art, Black people, and Black culture during the double pandemic of COVID-19 and ongoing systemic racism. With an array of houseplants, fresh coffee, and specialty home goods, it has become West Oakland’s oasis, an environment for reciprocal healing and straight vibes. Between the giggles and grins that turned our interview into a natural conversation, we learned of the unexpectedly transformative work of the Green House and the responsibility that came along with launching this business. We asked about the success of the Green House, to which the duo spoke to the power of the space and its ability to meet the exact needs of the community at this specific moment. J’Maica credits their success to “doing the right thing, at the right time, for the reasons, in the right way.”
Trusting their intuition and in a feat that can only be attributed to divine intervention and guidance, Kalu and J’Maica created a space that they would soon find out would offer more than just products. Since its opening, the Green House has filled its weekend appointment slots and sold out of plants consistently. Lines start before opening and socially-distanced crowds have grown larger waiting for their moment to immerse themselves in the experience that is Blk Girls Green House. In the words of their very first customer, “this [space] is revolutionary.”
To experience the environment ourselves, we took a trip to the Green House on a slightly overcast but uplifting Saturday morning, where we chatted with some of the Blk Girls Green House customer community. Fitting for the space, we spoke with five Black women, who all shared their enthusiasm for the Green House and the impact it’s made on them and on the West Oakland community. We could tell just how important the public’s continued engagement is in helping Kalu and J’Maica shape the vision for this dynamic space. There’s only so much we can tell you from these lively conversations. Blk Girls Green House is best experienced for yourself, in action, bursting with life.
“What would it look like to have a space where Black people could come see reflections of themselves, and see their art form, and their makers being celebrated and then providing a place where we could buy Black? —Kalkidan “Kalu” Gebreyohannes, Co-Founder, Blk Girls Green House
“People are coming here and they’re getting more than just a plant, more than just a candle, more than just a coffee table book, they’re experiencing something when they come into this space.” —J’Maica Roxanne, Co-Founder, Blk Girls Green House
“For me, it’s mainly an energy thing. And it’s also just such a nurturing space where you just feel the love and where you want to feel community, you want to feel love and positivity. You come here, and you want to feel good. That’s something you just can’t duplicate.”Xiomara Rosa-Tedla
“It was very inspiring for me that something as beautiful as this can manifest and happen and like two Black girls, two fly Black girls did it in their own way, and weren’t going to shrink themselves into another space. They really just made it truly beautiful.”Xiomara Rosa-Tedla
“I’ve always been a plant mom. My mother grew up on a farm [so] I’ve always been around plants…coming from DC, I actually didn’t buy produce until I moved to New York because we grew everything…[Blk Girls Green House], it’s like a spiritual place, it’s like a place of healing.”Jessica Echols
“All of my plants have names, and they’re all old Black lady names. Everybody in my house is Black. My favorite plant, I actually bought from Blk Girls Green House. It’s a huge bird of paradise. And its name is Josephine.”Starr Howard
“Thinking about something, putting the work into it, and then it becoming life, that’s what planting is. That’s what life is. It’s putting focus into you. To open a green house during a time where everything sits still gives you time to grow yourself, but then have something that’s also growing with you. I just thought it was genius. And it just shows the magic of Black women. And just the tenacity of what we take on and how we execute.”Michelle “Mocha” Thomas
“Right now it’s hard to be a Black woman. And not even just right now, it has been. And to walk in and number one see Black women who are winning, who have built something so amazing for all of us to experience, and just being in a space where beauty resounds is something that is invaluable. Yeah, it’s the breath that we all need.”Alicia Jay