In the summer of 2020, the ground was fertile for Black-owned and -supportive businesses in Oakland, where the community erupted in fiercer-than-ever unity in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
Friends Kalkidan Gebreyohannes and J'Maica Roxanne were sowing the seeds for a place that would "provide an escape, an oasis, from everything that is happening around us right now with COVID, and with this secondary pandemic that is happening among Black people in America," Roxanne says. Blk Girls Green House, the women's plant nursery and community space that opened last month, would be an intentional and beautiful refuge for Black people in The Town, as well as an outlet for Black-made goods.
Having met pre-pandemic at Oakland's Black Joy Parade in February 2020, Gebreyohannes and Roxanne bonded instantly. Their birthdays were just days apart and they had similar personalities, not to mention parallel experiences as Black women and entrepreneurs. A designer of luxurious silk head wraps and accessories, Gebreyohannes is a partner in the Grand Lake women's clothing boutique Alyce on Grand; Roxanne is the founder of The Blacklist, a quarterly subscription box stuffed with lifestyle goods curated and designed by Black creatives. The pair quickly discovered their shared goals, as well as a common passion for plants.
While shopping at an Oakland plant nursery this past June, the friends talked about creating a similar place, but one that would feel "intentional for Black women and Black people in general;" a space that would feel healing for their community. Within just three days, they settled on an outdoor spot located at Axé Oakland, a gym and wellness center known for its inclusivity, on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Weeks later, Blk Girls Green House opened its doors for shopping appointments.
Their choice of neighborhood was also intentional: "People don't automatically think of neighborhoods like this having spaces like ours," says Roxanne of their Pill Hill address, noting that when fanciful businesses open in seemingly less desirable neighborhoods, it's typically due to gentrification—"pushing people out who have been in the community from the beginning, and bringing in new and beautiful things because they're targeting a new demographic. Who's to say that people, just because they live in a certain area, don't have a desire for beautiful things and beautiful spaces? Who's to say that they aren't deserving of them?"
Also intentional: a space that's just "a little over the top." The highly 'grammable gilded greenhouse blooms with luxurious details, personal touches, and homey objects. Placed among the plants and a selection of planters and vessels, you'll find framed art—including a portrait of Roxanne's "incredibly stylish, incredibly fierce" grandmother while in her 20s—copies of CRWNMAG; artist Sarina Mantle's Women + Patterns + Plants coloring book; candles and crewnecks from BLK. by Amina; and a copy of the de Young Museum's exhibition catalogue for Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.
"We knew instantly that this wouldn't be your typical outdoor space," Gebreyohannes says. "We were hoping that this space would inspire people to come looking their best, feeling their best."
The women encourage their guests to take it all in and "connect with yourself, with plants, with the person you brought with you" over specialty coffee drinks (think rosemary honey and lavender lattes) provided onsite by Blythe Coffee. They will also host rotating pop-ups with other local Black-owned businesses.
While countless small businesses are struggling to remain open and adapt during the pandemic, the women say they are humbled by their immediate success; on opening weekend, they nearly sold out of product. The moment provided what one might call a high-class problem, challenging the women to speed up the evolution of Blk Girls Green House in order to keep up with the demand.
Today the shop offers a perfect COVID-era experience, with 30-minute appointments and just four bookings available per time slot to ensure serenity and social distancing. This model also allows the ladies to take an opportunity to have personal conversations with shoppers, answer questions, and make individualized plant suggestions. "We just want to make sure that people continue to feel good here," Gebreyohannes explains.
Moving forward, they plan to expand their inventory of home goods by Black makers, open for appointments a fourth day each week, and maybe even add a community garden with learning and work opportunities. But self-care will always be key to the mission.
"In particular for our Black community, I think there's sometimes a level of guilt that we feel, like how do we get to experience joy and simultaneously stay actively fighting for things that we need—for justice and for peace," Gebreyohannes says. "We have to remind each other that it's okay to take some time for yourself, it's okay to do simple things that can bring you joy."
// Blk Girls Green House is open by appointment from 10am to 5pm Friday through Sunday; 3261 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (Oakland), bggh.shop.