by Alexa Peters
To say that Black Coffee Northwest, a new Shoreline-based Black-owned coffee shop, has had a tumultuous first six months would be an understatement.
Last October, right before their grand opening in the middle of a pandemic, Black Coffee Northwest was the victim of a racially motivated Molotov cocktail attack. Only a month ago, their property was defaced with swastikas. At the same time, the line for their drive-thru consistently wraps around the block, and concerned community members are actively donating money, supplies, and even volunteering to keep watch in the shop’s parking lot to prevent future attacks.
“We have people that are supporting us, people that are showing up. It’s also showing that there are people that … want this community to be better,” said Black Coffee Northwest co-owner Darnesha Weary. “And that pisses [our opponents] off even more.”
Clearly, just the existence of Black Coffee Northwest is a point of contention in the dominantly white North Seattle neighborhood, but that isn’t stopping Weary from boldly realizing her vision of Black Coffee as a community hub where patrons can share a latte, discuss racial injustice, and organize for change. In fact, this month, that vision further crystallizes with the launch of a new eight-week internship program for local youth, designed to prepare 20 kids for their futures through barista and social justice training. The program is open for applications until Monday, March 22.
Black Coffee Northwest’s internship is being offered in a COVID-safe “hybrid” manner, incorporating virtual meetings with masked, social-distanced small-group meetings at the coffee shop that adhere to statewide COVID guidelines. The program also breaks down into three tracks — a preliminary junior internship for kids aged 10–15 and two internships for high school kids ages 16 and older with different focuses.
“A lot of kids, they don’t get that experience — that opportunity. Like if you walk [into a coffee shop] and don’t have any experience, these days a lot of people, especially in the restaurant industry, they don’t have time to train you,” said Weary. “So that was our very first intention [when we opened] … that we provided opportunities for youth to come in and learn how to make coffee — come in and be a barista.”
Hence, the “barista-focused” internship will train interns in key barista skills like pulling shots and steaming milk, while also giving them actual work experience on the floor of Black Coffee for their resumes. Weary says offering this on-the-job experience for young adults was important to her because barista jobs are everywhere, and they’re something that can open many doors for young people — particularly young BIPOC adults — if they have the experience to get hired in the first place.
“You know, when we first set out to find Black and Brown baristas, we couldn’t find them. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the coffee industry — we’re deep diving into the whole coffee industry — and it’s very white. It’s very male dominated as you climb higher to the top, and so we want to expose [BIPOC] youth to the industry,” said Weary. “Being a barista is something you can do any- and everywhere. Everyone likes coffee — it’s everywhere, all over the world. You’ll always have a skillset where you can get a job, and you will have experience.”
Since the escalation of the racial attacks against her business, Weary, who also runs her own anti-racist consultant business called Let’s Do Work, decided to add a social justice internship alongside the barista training. The social justice internship will teach teens how to organize protests, learn their rights, network with other organizers, and generally understand systems of injustice.
“[We’ll explore questions like] what are the -isms that control and who are in the positions of power?” she said. “When we talk about racism, we’re not talking about events, we’re talking about systems. It’s important for them to know how those systems work so … they know how to navigate through this raggedy world and be successful.”
While the internships are open to kids of all backgrounds, Weary says the social justice internship will incorporate a tool she uses as an anti-racist consultant in the business world — racial caucusing or dividing people up into their primary racial or ethnic groups to tackle the anti-racist work most applicable to their experiences. This will allow white interns to increase their understanding of concepts like white privilege without re-traumatizing BIPOC students.
“We’re going to talk to all our parents about what our strategy is so everyone is on the same page and understands, but we’ll be separating [racial] groups to have conversations,” said Weary. “We don’t want to re-traumatize our Black and Brown students, and they don’t need to learn about racism [in the same way] because they experience it.”
The social justice internship will be led by Diana Mruru, a member of the leadership team for University of Washington’s Black Student Union, and the barista-focused internship will be led by veteran barista Sarah Childs. The programs will also incorporate guest speakers. Thus, interns will have access to older role models who look like them, something that is particularly impactful for BIPOC kids in Shoreline.
“Our Black and Brown youth that were raised in predominantly white spaces, there’s a lot of anti-Blackness that’s showing up in them,” said Weary. “They never had representation. They never had Black teachers, Black people in positions of power.”
Along with providing kids with life skills and a chance to safely socialize during the pandemic, the program counts toward their high school volunteer requirements, which quite literally helps kids graduate. Weary is also in talks with a couple of local institutions about how this internship could be developed into an actual accredited course.
In the meantime, Weary is excited to get to know their first round of interns and to set them up to be wildly successful, or as Weary puts it, “dangerous in every space.”
“We want to make sure we’re intentional with these kids,” said Weary, “so they can walk into a café anywhere and be like, ‘Hire me, I have the skills.’”
Alexa Peters is a freelance journalist and copywriter living in the Seattle area. Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The Washington Post, Leafly, Downbeat Magazine, Healthline, and more. Her Twitter is @itsallwritebyme and her Instagram is @alexapeterswrites
Featured image by Alex Garland
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