TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

Stay woke: Black Coffee Company brews beverages and financial literacy

in Ark Weekender/Lifestyle & Travel by

Regular chats and checkups turn a friendship into a java venture with a mission to caffeinate and empower.

Every week, members of Black Coffee Company partake in a ritual that they implemented long before working together on a business venture.

Prior to reporting numbers and sales, or press requests, Branden Cole, Chris Bolden, Gino Jones, Jamin Butler and Leonard Lightfoot, convene in a brotherhood circle to update each other on their personal lives and career moves.

Since most of the entrepreneurs have families and other hustles, they congregate any way they can. Telephone calls, quick lunch briefings, or, if lucky, a weekend getaway to meet up with a collective that lives throughout the US. In this case, the crew of five Xavier University alumni, some who go back as far as junior high school, employ their most viable conferencing medium at the moment, Google video.

Much like the session of banter and brainstorming carried out on this midsummer Sunday, the concept of Black Coffee Company was birthed. The irony of it all, it was never about coffee initially.

According to Jones, their coming together centered self-determination, and foremost, economic freedom. The group, who are fathers, husbands and trailblazers working in industries from technology to academia, pushed each other through multiple degrees and traveled the world jointly, but soon discovered that there was a difference between earning a paycheck and access to capital. When calculating disparities in the distribution of resources, they saw that the wealth gap was deeper than fissures in the San Andreas fault lines.

Because of that, they agreed to directly invest in themselves.

Hedging Bets

“We started this venture around empowerment with culture and our family,” explained Cole who works for Microsoft by day, but flips in the business of coffee beans at night.

He revealed. “We realized that all of us knew how to make money, but were not really taught on how to manage it. We wanted to start a movement with our community in being more transparent about financial literacy and [allowing for people to] not to be ashamed [when they were] not familiar with the topic. We wanted to break down the barrier to have those discussions.”

Furthering their idea, Butler said, “We needed to give ourselves our own opportunities to really build upon something.”

The group decided to create an investment club called, BackPack Investments in 2016. As the brothers (from other mothers) began to regularly pool their money, they deliberated on what would be their first enterprise. They were clear that they wanted to build a “central repository for collaborations and for people to come together with ideas,” described Bolden. However, they were stumped as to what would be the conduit to get folk inspired.

One day, somewhere in the ether, the java gods blessed them with a lightning rod idea. Coffee.

Coffee colored dreams

“Coffee came into it because we like to have coffee with our cause,” told Lightfoot. “Coffee was always there when we were talking and people often drink it when they are meeting. So, we decided to start a company that focuses on two things: coffee and empowerment.”

Their site operates as a hybrid. One half sells coffee and merchandise, while the other side provides tips and links to financial literacy.

Once deciding that they would launch Black Coffee Company, they conducted research on the highest quality beans. Looking to Africa, the deep-rooted friends selected fair trade, single-sourced, organic coffee plants from Ethiopia. They have expanded their selection of beans, and now source coffee from Honduras and Peru, but Arabica Ethiopian coffee reigns as the customer favorite.

 

For them, choosing the Sub-Saharan country carried layers of intention. Although reared in South Central Los Angeles and the origins of their family tree somewhat befuddled in the forced dispersion of their ancestors, the co-owners of Black Coffee Company identify as members of the Diaspora.

Butler blogged about the significance of Ethiopia and coffee when he wrote, “In the tenth century, Ethiopian nomadic mountain people may have been the first to recognize coffee’s stimulating effect, although they ate the red cherries directly and did not drink it as a beverage.”

On one hand, opening with Ethiopian beans was a way for the company’s executives to tap into their cultural lineage while doing business with distant relatives across the Pond. In another light, it helps one of the poorest countries in the world. About 60 percent of Ethiopia’s foreign revenue derives from coffee beans.

At the same time, the coffee startup adds to the US economy because its coffee roaster is located in Dayton, Ohio, a city hit hard in the 2008 recession. With local roasters and superb beans, the group ensures that every shipment to customers comes fresh.

Time for the percolator

While intellectually jousting about matters of the world on their weekly call, the band of brothers make sure that everyone remains in high spirits, even though their phones bing from news headlines detailing another sordid story.

As of late, one of the more disturbing broadcasts recounted two Black men who ended up handcuffed and escorted out of a Philadelphia Starbucks when the store’s manager called law enforcement after their refusal to make purchase following her disallowance of them using the bathroom.

“It could of easily been one of us, but it began an important conversation about the economic climate we live in,” said Jones.

Cases like these, challenge the group to create spaces and opportunities where people who look like them can thrive.

Cole added, “The thing at Starbucks highlighted a lot of stuff. Like, the fact that we don’t have an alternative. We talk about boycotting, but how long can we sustain that. We have to have a place where we have our own stuff.”

One of the ways they continue to push their philosophy and product is by inviting other entrepreneurs or professionals to their chats. “We have to pool our knowledge and resources to grow,” emphasized Butler.

Now, vying for corporate contracts where the Black Coffee Company can serve as the main vendor or supplier, currently, they sell their coffee online and at special venues, trade shows and festivals where every drip drop of brewed Joe is poured with care.

Black Coffee Company owners: L-R Chris Bolden, Leonard Lightfoot, Jamin Butler and Branden Cole, and Gino Jones.

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Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

 

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