Coming Together Over Black Coffee
Part coffee shop, part youth empowerment service, Black Coffee Northwest is leading the conversation on racial equity and creating opportunities for future generations.
For DarNesha Weary and her husband Erwin, coffee shops have always represented much more than a place to buy their favorite beverage. A coffee shop is a gathering place for all walks of life, a space for conversation and connection — or as Weary likes to say, "the heartbeat of a community."
The couple had talked about opening a shop of their own for years, so, in 2020, when a friend texted Weary to let her know a space in their hometown of Shoreline was available, she and her husband went for it.
Weary is a former racial equity consultant, trainer and motivational coach, and she and her husband were already running a couple of youth performing arts programs. She saw an opportunity to combine her passions: A coffee shop and a youth advocacy organization that supports Black culture.
"It was at the height of the racial uprising," Weary said. "It felt like the right time to do it. The community was calling out for justice and a place to feel safe and feel heard."
The idea was born for Black Coffee Northwest and the youth program called Grounded.
Creating a Welcoming Space
Weary's motivation for developing youth services alongside the coffee shop stems from challenges in her own life.
She and her mom experienced homelessness when Weary was a young child in South Seattle, and her mom struggled with mental illness.
She remembers what it was like when she and her mother moved to Shoreline, a predominantly white community, in the 1990s. She was the only Black person in her school.
"I remember walking in and not seeing anyone who looked like me," Weary said. "I was immediately 'othered.' I had a hard time finding myself."
She never wanted other people to feel the way she did as a kid. She wanted to help them feel like they were supported and belonged. She was driven to create a place where Black people knew they were welcome.
Building a Path to Wealth
Black Coffee Northwest is the Wearys' first brick-and-mortar business, but the couple are experienced entrepreneurs. That's partly by choice and partly because being business owners has helped them survive.
"We don't have generational wealth," DarNesha Weary said. "We didn't have anyone to call and borrow money from. We had to have side hustles just to live."
The Wearys' lack of generational wealth isn't uncommon among Black families in the U.S. On average, Black households had $24,100 of wealth compared with $189,100 for white households as of 2019, according to the Center for American Progress.
Closing the wealth gap isn't a matter of teaching Black people how to save money. Centuries of violence, oppression and racist policies and systems have barred many Black people from the opportunity to even begin building wealth, much less pass it on to the next generation.
The Wearys wanted to help kids find a better path.
"I don't want my kids, my grandkids and any generation that comes after us, to be in survival mode all the time," DarNesha Weary said. "I want to help them build a life of happiness and abundance."
The Wearys use their own challenges and successes to inform their youth programs.
"We use our personal stories and lived experiences when we talk to the kids," DarNesha Weary said. "We talk to them about using their passion and turning it into their purpose — and help them figure out how to monetize that."
Black Coffee Northwest has been the target of multiple attacks, both physical attacks on the property and verbal attacks on employees.
Before the business even opened in 2020, the café was firebombed. In early 2021, it was vandalized with swastikas.
"I was really, really angry," Weary said. "We have been in this neighborhood for 20 years, doing community organizing work. People know who our family is."
At first, the Wearys spoke up about the violence. As one of few Black-owned businesses with a physical location in the area, they felt responsible for educating the community about what was happening.
The community responded with support and turned out in droves. On opening day, the line for coffee snaked through the parking lot and down the block.
But after a while, it became exhausting to call out every time something happened. Her employees are regularly subjected to verbal abuse, including being called "the N-word." Their daughter, who helped run the business before leaving for college, was called a "racist" and a "Black Lives Matter terrorist," Weary said.
She wished people would show ongoing support, not just in response to visible damage or tragedy.
"We appreciate the turnout, but that's just one part of it," Weary said. "The next part is doing some research, learning what's in your sphere of influence, and working to make sure those things don't happen again."
Grounded: Support for Youth
The Wearys run several programs through Grounded, their non-profit organization designed to help youth in kindergarten to age 24 be successful in school and beyond. DarNesha Weary estimates 100 kids come through the programs every week.
Offerings include mental health support, internships, and leadership development.
Despite the popularity of their programs, Weary said they struggle to get financial backing. Much like the racial wealth gap, the Wearys are not alone in the barriers they face. Black-led non-profit organizations have 45% less revenue than white-led organizations, according to the "Black Nonprofit Fundraising Guide."
When she talks with white friends about the challenges they face, she often gets offers for help with managing the books, staffing or otherwise running the business. They don't seem to recognize the challenges Black-led organizations face. In addition to helping to close funding and wealth gaps, Weary hopes the community will show support by committing to closing the understanding gap.
In the meantime, the crew at Black Coffee Northwest and Grounded will continue their work to become part of the fabric of their community.