In November 2023, The AUX held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of official construction. The celebration in Evanston brought together the organization’s leaders, future tenants and supporters, including its Community Investment Fund partner Endeavor Health.

The AUX, a wellness center for Black entrepreneurs, plans to open its doors for business in December 2024.“We've been working really hard for the last three years to get to this point,” said The AUX co-developer Tiffini Holmes.

Envisioned in 2020, The AUX is being created by local Black entrepreneurs and wellness practitioners as a vibrant space in the west side of Evanston, focused on supporting the health and wellness of the community. Working with Black-owned construction and architecture companies, the organizers plan to turn an abandoned potato factory in the second ward into a home for more than a dozen businesses.

“All the businesses are for profit,” said Holmes. “But all of the business owners have a heart for community and have set aside programming in their spaces that will help the community.”

With support from the Community Investment Fund, The AUX organizers have raised $6 million dollars of their $10 million goal. To support community-connected projects like this one, Endeavor Health’s Community Investment Fund has distributed $10.6 million to date to local partners to create or expand programming that promotes overall health and wellbeing, health equity and economic security.

Despite a groundswell of support and interest, fundraising has been a challenge. One barrier has been the business center’s location in Evanston, a Chicago suburb primarily thought of as being too wealthy and prosperous to need aid, said Holmes. “If this project were on the South Side, if it were on the West Side, we could fund this 10 times over.”

There is a definite need for what The AUX will offer, adds Holmes. According to the city of Evanston’s EPLAN, Black residents in Evanston face lower life expectancies and lower wages than their white counterparts. The primary cause has been historic displacement, redlining, and lower investment in the areas where many Black residents live.

A vision for the future: Loads of love

Attending the groundbreaking were The AUX co-developers and future tenants Tosha Wilson and Jacqui White. The business partners have spent three years developing plans to open The Laundry Café as a place where customers gathering around washers and dryers can find community and entertainment.

"When's the last time you saw a laundromat with a nice TV, along with a place to sit with friends for coffee, study space, and youth programming?” asked White.

Despite a solid business plan, they struggled to receive capital from area banks. “It started out small and about community and just us. But then when The AUX found us, it just kind of blew up and became even bigger and better,” Wilson added.

The Laundry Cafe was one of the first businesses to sign up to call The AUX home. Today, The AUX has filled all but one tenancy spot with up-and-coming Black-owned businesses.

The commerce hub takes inspiration from Milwaukee’s Sherman Phoenix Marketplace, a pioneering center dedicated to helping Black-owned businesses thrive. Since it opened in 2018, the Sherman Phoenix remains a successful model of grassroots entrepreneurship, said Juli Kaufmann, a commercial real estate developer who worked on that project in Milwaukee and is now helping launch The AUX.

“There are so many things that they're building upon. The main thing is recognizing the brilliance and leadership of Black entrepreneurs and removing barriers to their success.”

Building The AUX isn’t just about creating financial success, the developers add. The AUX will serve as a shining beacon of Black excellence and community to inspire future generations and revitalize Evanston’s second ward community.

“The AUX means a future that everyone can look forward to,” said The Laundry Cafe’s Jacqui White. “We want to be what kids see, so [Black entrepreneurship] is normalized again. Because right now it's not normal, and we need to bring it back.”

Our Community Investment Fund is one of many ways in which we seek to engage locally and provide community-connected care. Learn more.