Make your way into the coworking space at Provident1898, and you will be caught up in the energy.
This is not a library. It is not a corner coffee shop. It is a central station of entrepreneurs and innovators whose purpose is to make the most out of every opportunity.
But first, let’s go back. Way back.
Downtown Durham has a rich history for the African American community. Parrish Street was and is still known as Black Wall Street, with a formidable footprint of black-owned businesses and property that has since been diminished by development, but held its memory strong as an example of representation and inclusion.
A key person at the heart of that history was John Merrick, one of the founders of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the nation’s oldest Black-owned insurance company. He also founded Mechanics and Farmers, the country’s first African-American bank.
Though the geography of the city has changed a great deal, the newly renamed Mutual Tower stands tall in the downtown corridor and carries on the legacy of these trailblazers. And it’s home to Provident1898.
Where every month is Black Future Month
“Who are the people that are making black history currently, and can we please give them their flowers while they're alive?” asked Provident1898 Community Builder Justin Minott.
“That’s the sentiment of the work that we're doing now,” he explained. “Who are the black leaders, creators, artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs, who are making history right now? How do we support them on their journey, and connect them to the resources that they need? So a lot of the work that I've been doing has been centered around going from ‘coworking space’ to ‘coworking community.’”
Even though Provident1898 is housed in a landmark building with a historic connection to the Black business community, Minott and the team have a vision for beyond an address.
“It should never be about the space,” he said. “I think if we make it about the space, we've missed the real impact. Frankly, there are plenty of places that have fast WiFi and things like beer on tap. That isn’t going to be the competitive advantage of a place like this, nor should it be. We are leaning into what it means to be a community — an entrepreneur ecosystem. If the entrepreneurs are the bricks, who provides the mortar?
That's the curiosity. That’s what we're trying to tinker with right now. Is there a way for us to be a resource and actively contribute to businesses growing their revenue, hiring more people — moving the needle on all the metrics that matter?”
Members that align with a mission
As Community Builder, Minott’s job isn’t just focused on operational challenges and the day-to-day functional needs of the company. In addition to all that work alongside his team, he’s moving around the space, making introductions, checking in on projects, and facilitating relationships.
But the operations still matter.
“Having smooth operations allows us to focus on the part that matters to us most — the people. Coworks does a lot of the heavy lifting for us when it comes to the behind the scenes pieces.”
The Provident1898 community is as inclusive as it is specific. Clear and consistent branding and messaging draw members and tenants that align with the mission of being a black-centric, though not black-exclusive coworking space.
“Paying rent here is activism,” Minott explained. “Because these members and companies can go anywhere. This area has options. But we’re nearly at capacity. We’ve got tenants such as Litterati, an environmental impact company, and NC IDEA, a local entrepreneurship program, that chose to be here. They are predominantly white companies that are actively contributing to the wellbeing of a black-centric coworking community — on purpose. In return, they get to access a community of diverse entrepreneurs and expand their networks.”
Learn more about Provident1898.