Render Free's History
From the start
Black and Brown expend unrecognized labor navigating predominantly white spaces that are often embedded within a larger framework of sexism and racism. We are sisters, parents, mothers, and caregivers. We are advocates, professionals, activists and artist, who bare a social expectation of self-sacrifice, rarely granted institutional resources devoted to our humanity. The daily onslaught of microaggressions and recurring harm of being undervalued is exhausting.The roles we play and contributions we make often give us a sense of joy and purpose. Yet, I propose that as Black and Brown women, irrespective of their productivity and independent from their performance, deserve to be well and free.
When I found myself most in need of a place that would protect me from the battery of racial trauma, I instinctively sought out community spaces across the Twin Cities. Finding sanctuary in Black-owned cafes and restaurants, I was reminded of my personhood amongst those who understood the complexity of my experience.
Inspired by the potential for healing in these Black-owned community spaces, I sought to contribute to the network of havens across the cities. So that regardless of where one might find herself, she can reach for solace in a communal space that reminds her of her inherent worth.Propelled into entrepreneurship, Render Free was not motivated by the opportunity to own and operate my own business. It is not my intent to build an empire or even to accumulate great wealth. Rather, I set out to create a sustainable solution when the problem can no longer be ignored.
My hope was to cultivate and bear witness to a community of Black and Brown women who are practicing the prioritization of their own wellbeing. It is still my intention to do so as an example. Not as a professional who feigns know-how but as a Black woman unwilling to sacrifice my whole self even for the sake of advancement, confident in my contribution and honest about my humanity.
...you okay, sis?
In May of 2020, Render Free launched as a 100% Black woman-owned communal wellness space. Members were given access to a community lounge, cafe and co-working area created and maintained with them in mind. Render Free offered virtual and in-person space dedicated to promoting the integration of work, rest, self-care and collective healing.
To highlighting strategies that disrupt the onslaught of racial trauma, local wellness practitioners of color were featured regularly. Solidarity Sessions were held to invite dialogue amongst members about the pursuit of rest and countercultural value of internalized dignity.
Yet, what proved to be most impactful over the years was Member Care. These one-on-one settings offered dedicated time for members to name their lived experiences, strategize new boundaries, practice reflection in solidarity and fortify their practice of rest, of self-reflection and growth.
Render Free was a concept born of my own need for a space of rest and healing as a Black woman navigating the minefield of white supremacy. Introduced to the world for the first time in April of 2020, as a pop-up at The Center of Belonging in South Minneapolis, I held onto the question: is my need for this space echoed by the community and does Render Free meet that need?
In spite of the hardship of enduring a pandemic and the collective trauma inflicted by the public murder of George Floyd that led to a global uprising sparked in our district, in two years over two-hundred community members have joined us in this mission to disrupt racial trauma by promoting whole body wellness for self-identified Black + Brown women. To my question, I heard a resounding “YES!” Each new Founding Member, each word of encouragement and every earnest expression of gratitude by those finally met with a place to belong, had proven the potential of Render Free.
A New Haven
In the fall of 2022, I embarked on a fundraising campaign to support the relocation and expansion of Render Free. An arduous endeavor, I rallied members, met with allies, partners and advocate. I was also joined at this time by two incredible Founding Members turned on-staff teammates, Vanessa Brooke Agnes and Priscilla Muschamp. They carried with me the vision of Render Free.
"Before I became a Founding Member of Render Free, I had an innate sense of knowing what I needed but not knowing if a specific space existed that could hold the complexities of my experience. As someone who is continually searching for what it means, looks, and feels like to be free, Render Free became the space where I knew I could just be."
- Priscilla Muschamp
"Truthfully, there is really nowhere else I would rather be. In the early days of Render Free, amidst the whirlwind of 2020, finding solace in the space and meeting the women in this community showed me a path forward. It showed me I could sit in a safe place and heal alongside others, I didn’t have to carry it all alone. I began to heal."
- Vanessa Brooke Agnes
Though our collection fell short of our ultimate fundraising goal, we were successful in raising contributions and pledges of over $70,000. These funds supported our growing team, expanding programs and the redesign of our space. We stretched the dollar and were joined by dozens of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves and our helped us to make the beautiful atrium lounge in North East Minneapolis. Render Free was to be a place where Black + Brown women would find a haven, in community, and a place to encounter their truest-selves beneath the burden of the armor they carry.
A New Haven Celebration - grand opening event, February 3, 2023
I was humbled by the contributions we received. I was invigorated by the beauty of our new space and honored to be joined by such incredible, passionate and skilled teammates. Yet, I knew that the sustaining power of Render Free's lounge + workspace would be dependent on the participation of those who had not yet joined us. Just six days after the grand opening event I wrote:
...I have given much of my energy to nurturing this community resource. I have held fast to the vision of a physical place where Black + Brown women might discover a work-life that is integrated with self-care and collective healing. Render Free is created to be an environment sacred enough to bare our wounds...the growth of what Render Free has become is no longer something I can sustain on my own. In spite of the love and devotion I have for this vision, I refuse to return to the shackles of old tropes. In this time of opportunity and risk, I will not put this business on my back and strain ahead as the ‘Strong Black Woman’.
"In spite of the love and devotion I have for this vision, I refuse to return to the shackles of old tropes. In this time of opportunity and risk, I will not put this business on my back and strain ahead as the ‘Strong Black Woman’."
By summer, my team and I knew that time for Render Free's lounge + workspace had come to an end. After three trips around the sun, in changing seasons and challenging times, Render Free pivoted on the axle of freedom centering the rest and healing of Black and Brown women. Emancipation embodied in 1865 looked like Black folks escaping enslavement and into the warmth of other suns. Liberation in 2020 was a safe harbor for Brown bodies seeking refuge from the emotional labor and physical threat of war raging over the soul of our cities.
As we listened to the cry for freedom in 2023, we humbly recognized the participation of our members as an indication that the offerings of Render Free no longer address the most urgent needs of our people. We Black women, the staff who cultivated Render Free, were more committed to chasing the fluidity of freedom today than our dream of maintaining even this, our beloved institution. And so, with grief and gratitude, we announced the permanat closure of Render Free's lounge + workspace effective June 30th.
Render Free has held me to a new standard of self-care, taught me about the power of community and given me a taste of a Black freedom that heals. Now, both personally and professionally, I am committed to carrying this goodness forward albeit in a new form. Inspired by Render Free’s member care, my offerings have been reintroduced as 1:1 and group coaching, cohorts, workshops and retreat facilitation all in pursuit of internal and collective liberation.
"Not only is caring for oneself permissible, it is necessary.
When she is free, we will all be free."
- Anonymous Black Woman
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