This entrepreneur is creating space for others to follow in her footsteps
Insights from Reesheda Washington, L!VE Café and Creative Space (Oak Park)
The story of how Reesheda Washington founded L!VE Café and Creative Space doesn’t start in Chicago, Oak Park, or even the United States. It started when Reesheda was doing microfinance work with female entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
She asked these women in the midst of building businesses what they were afraid of. Their response? That they couldn’t afford to be afraid. In that moment, she had a realization: "Here I am with all these resources and opportunities, a network, technology… and I wasn’t doing nearly as much as they were… so that day I wept, deeply, mostly for my own shame that I had so much and just felt like I was doing so little with what I had."
Though she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to create yet, Reesheda knew that she wanted to provide a space for others to have the same realization that she had in the Congo. That was the spark that created L!VE, which officially opened its doors 6 months ago. "What L!VE Café is all about is creating space for people to have an epiphany of their own, a realization of some sort of their own, that they may not have otherwise had."
But what makes L!VE different from a Starbucks? How can a café become a space for these creative realizations?From the beginning, Reesheda has worked to ensure that L!VE is a place for everyone. She has created a community space that works to break down barriers between Oak Park and Austin: L!VE’s baristas and event coordinators represent both communities and working moms from from Oak Park, Berwyn, Austin, and beyond come together in the space for networking events and conversations about gender, race, and equity. "That bridging and connecting, I think, comes directly out of my lived experience as a black woman."
Her radically welcoming approach is apparent in every aspect of the café, from gender neutral restrooms to a menu with something for everyone — gluten free, vegan, caffeine lovers, decaf drinkers, adults craving a craft beer and kids craving a chocolate milk.
Between the walls of her diverse and inclusive space, Reesheda coaches aspiring entrepreneurs. Rather than handing people more resources, she sees coaching as a process of guiding them to mobilize the resources they already have. In other words, to "unearth the beauty that was already there."
One of the entrepreneurs she coaches was making delicious gluten free baked goods for her family and friends when she met Reesheda. Amazed by the quality of her baking, Reesheda encouraged her to consider making it into a business. She didn’t have a bank account, LLC, or website when she met Reesheda. Now she has all of those things, is making a profit, and Reesheda sells her gluten free goods in L!VE every day.
Reesheda sees coaching as a critical part of her work with L!VE. She concentrates her effort working with aspiring entrepreneurs that are often deemed “difficult to employ”, helping them create sustainable incomes for themselves. "I think that coaching is probably some of the most dynamic, sustainable work we can do, because when people uncover and discover things about themselves for themselves they tend to hold on to those things longer."
This is not the cut-throat entrepreneurship we see on Silicon Valley. Reesheda leverages her business not to compete with others, but to uplift the people and communities that surround her. "The fact that I walk into work and I just get to touch community all day, it’s such a gift."