Black Coffee PDX — A Live Podcast Event
A little over three weeks ago, I walked off the Clinton Street Theater stage in Portland, Oregon feeling overwhelmed but invigorated. I looked around at the seven other individuals I'd spent just over two hours stage time with, already reflecting on what we just did.
At this point in time, I've planned and been a part of several panel discussions, airing out the harsh realities of a Black woman trying to advance her career in an industry that looks the opposite. Countless times I've tried to stuff those realities away and just "focus on coffee", but please believe me when I say it's easier said (from a point of privilege) than done.
What was different about this panel was that every face I sat with on that stage looked like mine. When I saw them — Dee, Ezra, Ian, Gio, Zael, Adam, and Cameron — any fear and anxiety that tried to creep up from the depths of my stomach dissipated. These feelings are par for the course when you lay out all your cards on the table for the world to see, especially when those cards are race, gender, and sexual orientation. But seeing entire parts of myself reflected in the coffee professionals next to me helped to make me feel safe and secure.
Here are some facts: the coffee industry has never been ready to have a real conversation about race. Discussions of marginalization within the scope of coffee often stop just shy of race, which most people of color, especially Black people, can't seperate themselves from. How we move through the world and how the world then reacts is largely based on our identity whether we want to acknowledge it or not. It started by shedding this light on the barista experience, but this includes the entire coffee value chain from producer to consumer.
There came a point when I got fed up. I got tired of having whole parts of myself be erased in discussions that were supposed to help us all move forward as individuals and an industry. I was real tired of people speaking for me instead of letting me speak for myself. I didn't want to wait for some larger entity to offer the platform for an adjacent conversation to be had. I have my own fucking platform. The importance of creating — no, forcing space for myself and others like me to be real about what it's like for us became top priority.
Out of that, Black Coffee was born.
For a long time now, I haven't known where to go with The Chocolate Barista. I've been stuck creatively and feeling discouraged from using the platform I built. Moving back into working in coffee with Barista Hustle and relocating to Australia also required my time and attention. While its been over a year since I've written anything, I found comfort in at least amplifying other Black coffee professionals when and where I could in my hiatus.
But Black Coffee feels like waking up from a really long, deep sleep, and I'm reinvigorated.
All I want, as The Chocolate Barista and a human, in general, is to make space where there isn't so that people can come together and be heard. I want to give people the microphone and turn the volume on max so folks can have at it. People should be able to tell their own stories and control their narrative. To see all of that come to life with Black Coffee PDX has been nothing short of amazing.
My biggest hope is that Black people who work in the industry or just enjoy going to coffee shops will listen to or watch the event and feel heard. Or maybe someone will see this and think, "Maybe there is a place for me in this." I hope it's cathartic and motivating for you as it was for me and everyone else who was a part of it.
This is only just the beginning.
Black Coffee PDX — April 24, 2018
Directed and hosted by Michelle Johnson
Produced by Sprudge
Sponsored & supported by NXT LVL PDX, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, La Marzocco, Oatly, and The Ace Hotel
In charitable partnership with Sankofa Collective and Brown Girl Rise
Co-Hosts: Ian Williams (Deadstock Coffee) and Gio Fillari (Coffee Feed PDX)
Panel: Dee Stubblefield (Coffee Friends Philadelphia), Zael Ogwaro (Never Coffee), Adam JacksonBey (The Potter's House & The BGA Executive Council), Ezra Baker (Share Coffee Roasters), and Cameron Heath (Revelator Coffee Company)