On Thursday, January 11th in Brooklyn at Baby Skips (1158 Myrtle Ave) a new event called I See You is focusing on an oft-neglected segment of the specialty coffee industry. Designed towards “uniting and supporting POC baristas & coffee professionals,” I See You's tag line is “A Conversation For Progress.” The event is sponsored by Little Skips, Crop To Cup, and Little MO, and is totally free to attend.
As we go to press here I See You takes place tomorrow night—that's soon!—and to learn more Sprudge spoke with event organizer Ezra Baker, of Share Coffee Roasters.
Hi Ezra! Thanks for talking to us about your event. By way of introduction, how long have you worked in coffee, and where are you working now? Also—what's your favorite drink to order in a cafe.
Ezra Baker: Hi I’m Ezra Baker and I’m from New York NY. I’ve worked in coffee for a month shy of 10 years. I’m currently the Wholesale Sales and Customer Relations Manager at Share Coffee Roasters out of Hadley, MA. That telecommuting life! My favorite cafe order is what I call the Eric Grimm: iced coffee (not cold brew) extra ice. So much ice that the ice is almost falling out of the top of the cup.
“A Conversation For Progress”—unpack that for us a little bit. Why did you choose that phrase to subtitle this event?
With the Help of Linda Thatch of the Little Skips empire, we came up with this because a bunch of POC coffee professionals all being in the same room is something that doesn’t happen. That in itself is progress. I feel like a lot of us have been the only one at our company for the most part. When you know other people are having the same career struggles or struggles with customers that you have, it makes it easier to push through.
Have you ever heard of an event like this before in coffee?
I haven’t! But I feel like I have talked about something like this for years!
Are there similar events in other worlds—art, music, or other beverage industries—that helped inspire this?
Yes, actually. A friend of mine in publishing is a member of POC in Publishing and Latinx in Publishing. We were having drinks and I mentioned the sort of event or group I wanted to start, and she kinda laid out to me the importance of events like I See You.
What is the event's format like? Is it just a hang or will there be speakers? A Q&A?
It’s going to be both. I'm going to lead/moderate a short talk with Linda from Little Skips, as well as and James Simmons from Counter Culture, and then we will open it up to any questions anyone might have. But I’m all about the hang just because we never get to do that!
On Facebook you shared something about seeing a friend, who is a prominent pro in the industry now and a POC, working bar at a cafe like 5 years ago, and thinking to yourself (and I quote): “Are they treating her okay here? Are they giving her the bar time she needs? Are they paying her the same? Are they saying fucked up shit to her?“
I'm curious to know, is this based on negative experiences you've witnessed or experienced personally? And do you think the industry has gotten better in the years since?
Yes totally. There have been some weird moments in my career but with the help of some co-workers I look up to I learned how to navigate a very tricky career path. I want everyone to have that! But it’s even more cool if that person has had a lot of the same experiences as you.
I don’t think the industry has gotten better. Companies have gotten bigger but if you look at upper management it’s not very diverse at all. There really isn’t much representation of any marginalized group.
Why is an event like this crucial right now?
It’s always been crucial. I think now I feel like personally I’m in a place to do something about it.
Do you hope this becomes a series?
Yes! I would like to throw one in every major city or in conjunction with a big industry event.
Anyone you'd like to thank for help putting this together?
Yes! Huge thanks to Linda Thatch and the Little Skips team, Erika Vonie and Crop to Cup, Tinuade Oyelowo, James Simmons, Liz Dean, and Rihanna Fenty.
The inaugural I See You is Thursday, January 11th at Baby Skips (1158 Myrtle Ave) in Brooklyn. Free to attend, all ages, 7pm.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Photo courtesy of Ezra Baker.