Longtime Humboldt Park resident Denise Ruiz didn’t set out to create a co-working space—at least, not right away. When the mixed media artist inquired about a vacant building rental on Paseo Boricua earlier this year, she just wanted to know if it would be available for a short-term lease, enough time to host a weekend pop-up market for her organization Books, Brunch & Botánica. A broker convinced her to come look at the long-abandoned space in person.
"It was in its rawest form—I mean, there were no floors," Ruiz said. But she found herself drawn to the space, and before she knew it, she had negotiated a full contract to open the Honeycomb Network. The building will soon become Chicago’s first co-working and community space designed specifically to elevate the creative work of people of color.
When it opens this month, The Honeycomb Network will serve as a one-stop shop for POC creative entrepreneurs—a co-working space in the traditional sense with printers, high-speed internet and office rental options, but also a community center where people will be able to take workshops on everything from plant-based cooking to martial arts, plus mental health care options from an in-house therapist. Crucially, all workshops and classes will be led exclusively by people of color, though people from all backgrounds are welcome to join and participate.
“[People of color] need these spaces where we can thrive,” she says. “We need these spaces where we can see each other as leaders, we can see each other as teachers, we can see each other as people with knowledge and wisdom."
In order to understand how this evolution—from a weekend rental to fully-realized co-working space—unfolded so quickly, one only has to look at Ruiz’s work with Books, Brunch & Botánica, a wellness-oriented community organization that hosts gatherings, workshops and quarterly markets for women and non-binary BIPOC. Ruiz, who co-founded the organization in 2016, had hoped that it could expand its reach this year with pop-ups on the South and West Sides of the city. The concept behind the Honeycomb Network, though, was always “the bigger goal,” Ruiz says.
“The idea was always to have a [permanent] space,” she explains. “I just didn't think it was possible.”
Now, with a building secured, Ruiz and her team—Books, Brunch & Botánica co-founder and Ayurvedic health counselor Cristina Gutierrez and psychotherapist Dorian A. Ortega—are busy getting the project off the ground. After COVID-19 delayed a planned April opening, they quickly launched the “Virtual Hive,” a selection of online workshops hosted by poets, business consultants and other creative professionals, intended to mimic the in-person offerings soon to be available in the space. The Virtual Hive has proven successful so far, giving the organization a foothold in the digital space and helping to spread awareness in communities across the city.
"Part of what we wanted to do is cross-pollinate between different communities, you know, Black and brown communities across the city,” Ruiz says. If you’re sensing a hive-related theme here, you’re on the right track. Similar to the honeycomb of a beehive, Ruiz envisions the space as a community nexus, connecting people both in and outside of Humboldt Park to resources and idea-sharing opportunities located in one central hub. The building’s location on Paseo Boricua, a strip of Division Street that serves as the center for Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community, feels especially poignant in this respect. Ruiz said she hopes that The Honeycomb Network will help divide the segregation-induced borders between Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago, as well as divisions within Humboldt Park stoked by gentrification.
“I think a lot of people think about the Puerto Rican community there, which is obvious, but there's also a community of Black folks there. There's also a big community of Mexican folks there, who grew up there, who are part of that,” Ruiz says.
There are still some details to work out before the team launches its soft opening—like renovations and prices for their three-tier membership programs and drop-in rates—but in some ways, the pandemic has proven surprisingly beneficial to the group’s mission. Ruiz said the uncertainty around opening has forced them to think extremely intentionally about how to best serve the needs of their burgeoning community; in the wake of in-person school cancelation, for instance, they plan to launch a twice-weekly homeschooling program to help support folks with kids at home. And that’s just one of many evolving innovations. Ruiz also wants to center their programming on social justice, finding ways to incorporate racial healing into their daily practices.
"At the end of the day, I really want to work with what the community needs, and what people are looking for," she says. "It's a co-working space, but it's also going to be so much more."
If you’re interested in getting involved with The Honeycomb Network, head to their website for Virtual Hive offerings, and stay tuned for more information about opening dates.
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