When you meet Monique Douglas, you know immediately that she has a knack for uncovering what makes people and places come to life in unique ways. For Monique, VIP service and excellence is a natural way of life. Her decades of experience in customer service in both the corporate and entrepreneurial sectors is what has allowed her to bring her ‘Midas Touch’ to everything she does. The Nassau Bahamas native hails from a family of entrepreneurs, so naturally she was born with “the bug”. When she met Kevin Douglas years ago, she knew that there was professional synergy. But little did she know that she and Douglas, a professional photographer, would end up being partners in both business and life.
It’s rare that you meet two individuals who are so committed to creating professional symmetry that you don’t even realize that they are also husband and wife. After knowing each other for several years, and working together on numerous projects, their natural connection blossomed into “the perfect marriage” of commitment to creativity and uplifting their community. Kevin Douglas is a veteran in both photography and business development. The Charlotte native credits the discipline of the Air Force as the foundation of his business acumen. From opening franchise kiosks in Puerto Rico, to working for NASA, and operating photography studios, the outspoken and charismatic photographer has created working relationships with people from event managers to government officials and sports commissioners. His brand, Captured by Kevin is known for being a staple in the Charlotte community.
Together, the Douglas’ run Studio 229, a multi-use facility that appears to be an event space on the surface, but on the inside is a sacred place where “history, humanity and artistry intersect” in the most beautiful way. Kevin, a seasoned entrepreneur in the Charlotte area uses the space to capture photographic moments for clients. His long history of creating beautiful imagery for his repeat clients has been truly enhanced with the launch of Studio 229 at Brevard. In addition to serving as a space for photography and videography, it is also home to some of the most intimate and soulful events. The Douglas’ regularly welcome live music artists, poets, visual artists, networking, and family events into their space at Studio 229. The vibe inside of the building feels warm, sexy, and unapologetically “grown up”. But the true beauty of the space lies within the history of the building itself. Studio 229 is one of three buildings that make up The Brooklyn Collective.
The history of The Brooklyn Collective is a colorful one. Natives of Charlotte will remember when this area was considered the Black Wall Street of Charlotte. The first reference to the Brooklyn area of Charlotte was in The Charlotte Observer in 1897. Much like many cities across the country at that time, there were areas reserved specifically for Black families that served as community hubs where families could live, work, and even worship. The Brooklyn area of Charlotte was made up of housing for families of all income levels, along with black owned businesses and social gathering spots. The Grace Church can be traced all the way back to 1900, and the Mecklenburg Investment Company, an integral part of the growth and development of Black communities in Charlotte can be traced back to 1922. The third building in the Collective is where Kevin and Monique Douglas occupy as Studio 229.
The Mecklenburg Investment Company plays a large part in the deep history of the Brooklyn area. It served as the pinnacle of growth for upward mobility of Blacks in Charlotte. A place where Black doctors, teachers, and business owners could gather and share resources. Unfortunately this vitality was quickly destroyed with the progression of urban development in the area. In the 1960s a NC Urban Development law took 238 acres of land and considered them to be “blighted”; resulting in the destruction of housing for over 1,000 families and 216 black owned businesses. Most of these families and businesses never recovered.
Today, the original mission of the Brooklyn area is coming full circle. Ironically, this was not the first location in consideration for Kevin Douglas. The seasoned photographer had explored several other spaces in the past but never pulled the trigger. One could say that it was divine intervention, because the physical space that he now occupies with his wife and business partner Monique fulfills both his personal and professional passions. In this new space Kevin is able to not only create, but impart his wisdom and experiences onto other young entrepreneurs and creatives. In regards to his passion for mentoring and advising young entrepreneurs, Kevin says “I’m 59. So I know I don’t want to be on my seat forever. So we understand that we have an opportunity here to transfer some of the experience, knowledge, and different things to a younger generation. So I don’t think it’s by accident that we have this studio” In regards to why mentoring is so important in this post-pandemic time, Kevin also affirms “I think more than people want to get back out and start making money, which, obviously we have to do if we want to stay afloat, but I think it’s equally important that we understand that we need to start teaching and mentoring for those things to come back to us”.
The charming property also houses a number of other businesses, including an incubator for small businesses, a maker/creator studio, and a nonprofit that Monique created many years ago called ‘Grooming Greatness’. But what makes this venture even more fantastic is that both Kevin and Monique have an active role in the livelihood of the entire Brooklyn Collective. Monique serves as Director of Community Engagement and Director of Tenant Services, while Kevin serves as the Director of Operations for the organization. Monique explains that the appeal of the buildings in the Collective go far beyond the original hardwood floors and stained glass in some of the areas. It is also an opportunity for things to come full circle and return to being the hub for collective growth. “There are some folks that still remember that there used to be 1400 families, 200 businesses, and that this used to be a thriving community. And these three buildings are the last thing left of that. I think bringing this back to life, and trying to establish a vibrant culture here where people can come in, they can not only go into history here, but they can actually do activities and programming here. Hopefully it gives them a sense of pride.” Additionally, the organization has been very intentional about making sure that they have representation from all parts of the community when developing programs and activities. She explains that the Brooklyn Collective is “a collective of like minded individuals from diverse backgrounds, who have come together for the greater good of the community”
There is always a variety of interesting activities at Studio 229. On some nights you’ll find Spoken Word and Jazz, on other nights you can enjoy exhibits much like the Frontline Worker exhibit earlier this year that paid homage to the heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic. And on every night, you can find a room full of passionate people gathering to share mutual interests. But for both Kevin and Monique, it is important that no matter what they are achieving professionally that they always remain committed to serving the community. The Brooklyn Collective is working on partnerships with much larger organizations like the Blumenthal Arts, who will soon introduce seven days a week of creative programming at The Grace. This will undoubtedly serve as a symbol of connection for the Charlotte area. Housing diverse programming in this lane creates an opportunity for deeper connection and understanding, as well as economic advancement and future development opportunities. With an almost unspoken understanding the Douglas’ both agree that their involvement in the growth and development of the Brooklyn Collective is an essential part of their story as entrepreneurs. With a smile full of life Monique sums it up saying “We understand the depth of the responsibility that we have to do our part in helping maintain stability, and helping to tell the history of what happened here, and helping the community to see the necessity of engaging”.