After George Zimmerman—the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin—was acquitted in 2013, then-Georgetown law student Ryan Wilson got an email from some friends with whom he had been doing diversity and inclusion work. The subject line was simple: What are we going to do?
“[I said], ‘I think we need a physical place where we can go to have this conversation,’” says Wilson. He also wrote about the need to create a community “where we’re going to be able to tackle this issue and anything else we want to tackle, as well as a place that could be there for us to hang out socially.”
His solution: a spot where Black people could gather to discuss issues like race and racism in America, politics, and social justice, while also taking action and meeting new people. Wilson valued the resources and connections granted by a university setting, and he wanted to launch a space that provided that kind of access to Black professionals, creatives, and entrepreneurs.
Out of that email came the Gathering Spot, a private networking club for the Black community. Wilson partnered with TK Petersen, a friend from his Georgetown undergrad days who was working in DC at Fannie Mae, and the co-founders launched the first location in Atlanta in 2016. The second location opened last month in downtown DC.
Not only is the DC club something of a homecoming for the Georgetown grads, but it also makes sense given that the Atlanta location is a hub for progressive politics and activism. Its members worked to help Georgia turn blue, hosting virtual events with voting rights groups, mobilizing voters for Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as well as President Joe Biden, and handing out supplies at long poll lines. The president has been a guest at the Gathering Spot, as have figures like Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker, and Stacey Abrams.
Wilson hopes to use the DC site in a similar way. “While we use the term private club, there are a lot of things that we do as an organization that probably don’t match how folks traditionally think about private clubs,” he says. “When you think about private clubs and advocacy, I don’t necessarily think folks see the association, but it’s core to who we are.”
And people are clearly excited about the new DC spot—it already has over 1,000 members (CNN’s Abby Phillip is a DC founding member). The space includes an event area, which can host anything from seated dinners to speaker panels. The club also has a bar and a dining area run by former Kith/Kin executive sous chef Martel Stone, with private rooms available for reservation (members get a complimentary breakfast). There is also a co-working area for members, too, with work stations, private offices, and conference rooms.
But please don’t call it a coworking space. Or a restaurant. Or an event spot. While, yes, the physical building is an important part of the Gathering Space, it’s not the selling point of the organization, says Wilson—its members and the conversations, connections, and impact they facilitate are. “We’ve never viewed ourselves as being in the space business, but really in the community business,” he says. “We think that’s where the magic really happens, when folks that ordinarily wouldn’t have met one another have the chance to do so.”
To that point, the Gathering Spot has a rotating list of panels and discussions available to members. Past events include speaker panels about the Black start-up community, a dinner with stand-up comedians, and community service outings.
Of course, Covid affected the group—it does have “gather” in its name, after all. While the Atlanta location had to temporarily close during Covid, and the DC spot’s opening was delayed, TGS’s network proved it transcended a physical space, says Wilson. “It was an interesting moment to test this thesis that we’ve had for a while, that it really is about the community that’s here,” he says. “We spent a lot of time and effort on the spaces, but even without them, folks understood that what makes the Gathering Spot special are the people that are here.”
The group moved its events, conversations, and networking online, and used its platform to support and help Black folks and businesses during the pandemic.
In March 2020, it launched the We All We Got fund, which gave $100,000 to Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned small businesses impacted by Covid. The group also created the TGS Lifestyle Box, a package of Black-owned products with proceeds going back to the makers. And in June 2020, it asked members to participate in the Power of 30 Challenge by spending $30 at a Black-owned business, which generated $450,000 in one weekend.
“This thing only works when the community that we’re forming is able to be there for one another,” says Wilson. “So we work intentionally to make sure that if there is a moment that we need to meet, the club is there to do it.”
While Covid means the DC location’s restaurant and event spaces aren’t fully up and running yet (the coworking area is open to members, though), it’s accepting new member applications. While the club is open to members only, they can bring guests, and the event space can be rented by the public. The group plans to have a big DC launch party once it’s safe and restrictions are lifted.
The next move? Continue to expand the TGS community. The group is currently building a third location in LA, and plans to open more sites in the future.
The Gathering Spot’s membership dues are $200 a month, $100 a month for those under 30, or $2,000 for a year.
The Gathering Spot; 1720 I St. NW