Kristina Jackson, creator of the groundbreaking new organization Boston Intersectional Coffee Collective (BICC), has been working in various alcoves of the hospitality industry for more than 15 years. A shift lead at Intelligentsia Coffee in Watertown, Massachusetts (a Boston suburb), Jackson spends her time off-bar working as a professional singer. “I know I’m not a poster child for what a barista looks like,” she says, when asked why she created BICC. “I’m also not a poster child for what a classical musician looks like. Maybe I’m not a poster child for what a black queer femme woman looks like. That’s why I want BICC to exist—because people like me matter just as much as anyone else, and our time has come.”
Jackson was inspired to create an intersectional coffee organization the night that a grand jury failed to indict Eric Garner’s killer. After that evening, she sought out a connection with other black activists at Black Lives Matter Cambridge, where she met writer/activist Didi Delgado, who encouraged Jackson to keep speaking up for herself and her community. “That was when I started talking online and tweeting my thoughts, even if they were angry,” she says. “Next thing I knew, I was meeting other coffee people online who felt—like me—frustrated about politics and racism and sexism, but also stressed about things plaguing the coffee community.”
Citing Boston’s reputation for being unwelcoming to people of color—especially those who are LGBTQ—Jackson felt that the city in particular needed an organization that truly centered people of color. “When I moved here, I thought I was going to find a city bursting with culture and diversity,” she says. Instead, she sees clear segregation between white communities and communities of color, which translates into the coffee world. She found this separation most shocking at latte-art throwdowns. “My first throwdown here, I was literally the only black person,” she says. “There were maybe seven or eight women. It took me more than a year to attend another event after that night.” Once she worked up the nerve to jump back into the throwdown scene, she went consistently; her presence was noted, and she could tell it made the space more welcoming to others. “One time I competed and made it to the third round before I was knocked out, and three different women came up to me and said I inspired them to try next time just by being behind the machine.”
Although BICC only launched in fall 2017, the organization traces its roots back to a panel discussion event last January put together by Dandy Anderson (who now works at Gimme Coffee in NYC). Titled “Behind the Bar: Real Talk from Women and Other Folks in the Coffee Industry,” the panel represented an important moment in Boston Coffee, for Jackson and the larger coffee community. “It was an opportunity to do something positive and different,” says Jackson. “I originally didn’t intend on speaking at the event, but as soon as I was asked, all these experiences of sexism and racism and erasure at work started coming up that I felt like, as a black woman and a coffee person in Boston, I had a unique opportunity to speak on. We had such a huge turnout for that night and such amazing feedback, that I wanted to put a name to that work.”
To kick off its official launch, BICC hosted an all-women latte-art throwdown called “Ladies Night,” which served as a fundraiser for a local charity called Rosie’s Place—the first official women’s shelter in the U.S. “I went to drop off the check along with some clothes and food and I felt so good about what our community was able to accomplish. It gives me hope about what we as a community have the potential to do for those we serve. Those women are the types of people who can’t afford to come into our shops, but we’re still connected to their lives and should do what we can to uplift and serve them.” Currently, Jackson is planning a small event for early 2018 at a black-owned pop-up coffee shop in the historically black neighborhood of Dorchester, which she hopes will inspire more white customers to visit black businesses in the area.
Unlike the many coffee organizations that only exist for those who live and breathe coffee, Jackson wants BICC to work for those who don’t necessarily see coffee as a career. In a community where few shops send workers to events and competitions, she would love to find a way to send people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. She also wants to have more panel discussions that highlight the lives of local baristas. “So many of us are artists or have careers outside of coffee, and those things deserve recognition too.” But her larger goal will always be supporting those that coffee workers interact with and serve. “By that, I don’t just mean our customers, I mean the communities where are shops are located,” she says. “How can we incorporate volunteer work? How can we incorporate fundraising for charity work? How can we fight gentrification, which is terribly rampant in Boston? We can do that by bonding together to better understand the people we serve. My hope is that, as many new coffee shops open in Boston over the next few years, we can foster positivity and healthy competition among ourselves.”
Jackson hopes to find support and collaborate with those who truly believe in and practice intersectionality. Interested parties can email BICC at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or donate to the attached Google Wallet. In both an industry and a region that are predominantly white and male, Jackson and BICC bring much-needed critical focus to the work the industry still needs to do to truly achieve equity.