The three buildings that stand along South Brevard and Third streets are among the last remaining buildings in what was one of Charlotte’s most prominent black neighborhoods back in the 1960s. For years, the spaces served as the place for people to gather as a community and to share in their success.
Now, Jason Wolf is on a mission to ensure that the buildings serve a similar purpose for today’s Charlotte community.
“These three buildings have a lot of history, over 120 years worth,” Wolf, owner of The Brooklyn Collective, told CharlotteFive. “We are seeking to breathe life back into them.”
The buildings will each have different functions as Wolf and his team fully activate all spaces. The main mission is to increase economic mobility, inclusivity, historic remembrance, arts, and community engagement.
Opportunities for those with disabilities
Currently, there is one tenant occupying the three-story building closest to the corner. Advocations, owned and operated by Lindsey Braciale, is a company dedicated to placing those with disabilities into opportunities for gainful employment. She has played an integral part in helping to activate the spaces of The Brooklyn Collective and has been named executive director of Make It Work, the nonprofit overseeing The Brooklyn Collective.
One of the most anticipated tenants is a coffee shop, slated to open by the end of the year.
Make It Coffee (MICO), which will be run by Make It Work, will open on the lower level of the historic building.
The shop will pay homage to the history of the neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s history
For more than 60 years, Brooklyn Charlotte served as downtown’s prominent black neighborhood. Between 1900 and 1968, black-owned businesses, churches and homes filled the streets of what is now known as Second Ward, where these buildings remain.
In addition to upscale houses, the area was also home to many of the city’s low-income black neighbors. The homes were razed as part of urban renewal, with residents being kicked out, given promises that the neighborhood would be rebuilt and they would be allowed to return.
To date, that has not happened. The area is now the site of the Government Center, Marshall Park and several parking lots. The Second Ward High School gym, one of Brooklyn Charlotte’s remaining buildings, has been renovated and serves as a community center and a gym. A former YMCA, now used for storage by the United Way, is the other building that remains.
A housing development named Brooklyn Village is planned for Second Ward. Its plans include some affordable housing as an attempt to help rebuild the Second Ward that residents were promised in 1968. Recently, some county commissioners questioned the deal, according to a report in The Charlotte Observer. Critics are concerned about giving up public land, including Marshall Park, to a developer who is likely to build upscale housing, the Observer reported.
At the home of the Brooklyn Collective, when you walk into the redone buildings, you will find a timeline that chronicles much of this history of Brooklyn. Artwork from African American artists will be displayed and rotated regularly.
Not just a coffee shop
Haerfest Coffee, a roasting company with over 30 years of experience, will provide the coffee for the shop.
“We don’t want this to be diluted to just a coffee shop,” said Toby Foreman, owner of Haerfest Coffee. “We want to pay homage to what the community stands for. A coffeehouse is touchpoint of a community. A place to learn, to dream, to grow.”
This coffee shop is only a piece of the bigger puzzle that will be The Brooklyn Collective. The buildings will be home to other businesses, as well as a variety of programming and community experiences that aim to make this corner of uptown a destination for the city to collectively get better at getting better, Braciale said.
Braciale plans to use the relationships she has already built with companies through Advocations to create job opportunities not just for those with disabilities but for all job seekers.
“We’re looking to create and add an entrepreneurial apprenticeship as a way to stay true to the mission of upward economic mobility,” Braciale said. “We’ll bring people in and show them the ropes of opening and running a business. Once their apprenticeship is over, we will aid in finding them more workforce-development opportunities.”
Additionally, there are plans to collaborate with individuals and organizations to sponsor, host, produce, and deliver programming and events that leverage innovation & workforce development.
Among the buildings is Grace AME Zion Church, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. It has always served as a safe space to solve community issues that people in the Black community couldn’t talk about elsewhere. Although it was sold to the historic commission over 20 years ago, The Brooklyn Collective team now wants to be able to positively influence the very things that were performed on those same grounds since the 1880s.
“The goal is to become a place that people will continually come to learn and grow. We want to provide the space that can amplify the great work that is already being done in our communities,” Wolf said.
As of now, it is expected that all three buildings will be fully up and running by the end of 2020.
218 S. Brevard Street, 219 S. Brevard Street and 223 S. Brevard Street
Melissa Oyler contributed to this piece.