How The Coffee Coalition For Racial Equity Is Improving The Coffee Industry

Coffee embarks on a long journey before it finds its way into your mug for that morning boost. You probably hardly wonder about how the beans are sourced or the labor that's involved in getting them from the plant into your kitchen. The history of coffee is as complex as the flavor of the bean itself. But, if you did think about it and happen to do some research, you'd find that the coffee industry has a dark past, with roots in enslavement and colonization (via Perfect Daily Grind).

Phyllis Johnson, president of the sustainable coffee company BD imports, wrote a piece for Roast Magazine in 2018 in which she shared that African Americans are less likely to consume coffee than white people, and are also underrepresented in the industry as a whole. Johnson said discussions of race and gender should be taking place in the coffee world more often, sharing "when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes." Even the absolute best coffee shops in the U.S. may have issues with underrepresentation.

Johnson explains to HuffPost that there is an acknowledgment of these issues in the coffee industry, but the conversation doesn't typically extend beyond that because the people telling the stories are predominately white. She also said black people have the notion that there's no history of people like them contributing to the coffee world.

Creating an inclusive future for the coffee industry

Johnson has long been talking about equality in coffee for more than 20 years, but not only does she just talk about it, she acts on it. In regard to her coffee company, BD Imports, which she opened in 1999, she tells HuffPost, "We have always run a socially conscious business where we look for folks who are like us, who believe that they can be a part of business and offer something different."  

Johnson went even further in 2020 when she founded the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equality (CCRE) which is described as "the coffee industry's accountability partner in advancing efforts towards racial equity," (per CCRE).

Upon the founding of the coalition, Johnson wrote an open letter to the coffee industry of the United States explaining "This letter serves as a call to action for industry leaders to come together to provide resources, tools and funding to fight against racism."

The CCRE follows patterns in coffee and calls for industry professionals to create a more inclusive future (via Groundwork). The CCRE offers partnerships and pathways into the coffee industry by consulting about racial equality in the workplace and offering educational opportunities for future coffee professionals. The coalition also provides support, mentorship, and other resources to help the coffee industry make strides toward equality.