When Bartholomew Jones started cxffeeblack as a medium to discuss coffee with fellow self-proclaimed "coffee nerds," he had no idea the impact this movement would have. Now, just over a year later, cxffeeblack has blossomed into a highly engaged Instagram community, podcast, coffee subscription service, and so much more.
In looking to take the next step in reconnecting his community with the culture he has dedicated so much of his life towards, the Anti Gentrification Coffee Club (AGCC) was born. The concept is simple: use coffee as a tool to bring together the Black community rather than force them out from their neighborhoods. In practice, the club focuses on the sale of merchandise and coffee beans to raise funds for coffee education and "brew up" meetings across neighborhoods in Bartholomew's home of Memphis.
After working with Bartholomew to design custom Camp Cups and Travel Tumblers for the club, we wanted to find a way to share his story with our community. We invite you to learn more about Bartholomew, the AGCC, and how he is working to "Make Cxffee Black Again"
MiiR | Tell us about yourself! What are some of your passions, and how does that come through in the work that you do?
Bartholomew | Yo! My name is Bartholomew Jones. I started cxffeblack with my wife Renata Henderson. I love hip hop, Yeshua, my three sons, and coffee nerditry (if that’s a word). I think a lot of those things come through in the fact that we’re looking to find the intersection of these things through the use of radical imagination in coffee. Starting with the question of what if, centering God’s plan for peoples outside of oppression.
M | What is cxffeeblack?
B | cxffeeblack is an emerging social enterprise that seeks to reclaim the black history of coffee in black communities in the diaspora, and use hip hop and black culture to reimagine its black future.
M | Where did the idea for the Anti Gentrification Coffee Club (AGCC) come from?
B | Essentially it came from conversations we had with our friends in our community development and urban education circles. Because coffee is often seen as one of the four horsemen of the gentrification apocalypse (along side craft breweries, rich ladies running with dogs, farm-to-table burgers), we felt it could be useful to flip the narrative. Especially considering that coffee is black at its origin, and one of the cash crops that fueled the theft of humans from their Black origins, it makes sense that if coffee was returned with equity to the people group who were stolen to grow it, it could provide a strong tool for resistance.
The whole concept for most of what we do is using creativity to see if coffee can be a part of the solution to problems it was used to create. Gentrification was a topic I’ve been thinking about for the last 10 years since I was a Sociology Student at Wheaton College, and the idea that it in and of itself it's really a neutral market force that unfortunately usually used to only benefit people outside of the neighborhood.
The notion of gentrification being a tool for empowerment has always been in the back of mind, but I never had a medium that I thought could communicate that idea. I think coffee is that canvas. And I think canvasses are important if we're going to imagine better futures for the problems that surround us. We have to be willing to envision things that don’t exist yet. So that’s what the AGCC is.
M | What is the mission of the AGCC?
B | It’s a club for present and future coffee nerds who want to use their capital, whether it be social, financial, or artistic, to leverage specialty coffee spaces in poor communities for the good of those who would otherwise be displaced. The goal is to remix industry standards in the third wave and replace with the cultural norms of the communities in which they reside, with the goal of making the coffee spaces more akin to their role in Black communities in east Africa, where coffee is a tool for community edification and empowerment.
Ideally, the club is composed of people FROM those communities, who are introduced to coffee independently of the problematic troops of third wave, and can grow to become indigenous leaders in the space. The club wants to stimulate this movement with art and documentation of its members' thoughts, to provide starting points for those who inevitably perfect its goals in the future.
M | Tell us about the designs on the MiiR x AGCC mug –– where did the inspiration for them come from?
B | The designs for the mugs came from the Black Panther movement and the Anti-Social Social Club. The Black Panther movement is know for their militant stances on self defense, but the bulk of their work was around creating food and education centers in communities. Their free breakfast program provides safe and accessible spaces where folks could be fed, and more importantly, empowered through education about their history. We believe community coffee spaces can provide similar services to the community, but sadly so many miss this opportunity and instead focus on catering to folks outside of the counties they move into.
The idea of creating a club – a central space for like-minded folks who wanted to change that – was the perfect way to stimulate conversation in the space. We think the idea of making something exclusive, adds to the draw, and also helps to mitigate the inevitable guilt-ridden objections that come whenever you address issues of race. It’s like, hey, you don't have to be a member of our club; but all the cool kids are here, and hopefully that makes you curious rather than defensive.
Those two ideas inspired the direction of the mugs, and RJV Collections took that concept and made it gold. He’s such a creative genius, and working with him has really made these honestly complex and layered concepts seem super accessible to our audience. We’re so happy about that. The fact that someone can do something as simple as buy a mug or hoodie, and be drawn into conversation each day on super complex topics – and somehow all of it feel cool, exclusive, and exciting – is a testament to his artistic prowess. We’ve honestly found that to be our biggest tool as a socially-minded company. If we can find a way to make something feel cool, to feel hip hop, to feel like Black culture, then convincing people to engage with the ideas becomes irrelevant. Folks want to be a part of the conversations because they already love the culture. They just never knew the two were connected.
M | What are ways people can get involved in the AGCC movement?
B | They can support by buying a hoodie or a mug! But the best way to to join is a coffee subscription. We don’t have funding, or credit, or anything like that. So our subscribers really are the folks who are our closest collaborators and allies. Our goal is to get to at least 100 subscribers this year so we can afford to keep doing the work we’re doing at the AGCC. That’s 40 more than we have right now. The constant monthly support of our mission, our team, and the black farmers we work with, brings everything full circle.