Becoming Tired Together: One Coffee Shop’s Approach to Anti-Racism
Becoming Tired Together: One Coffee Shop’s Approach to Anti-Racism

Humphreys Street Coffee Shop opens at 7 a.m.

If you arrive a few minutes before opening and quietly peek through the large windows of the oak doors, you’ll glimpse employees happily moving throughout the shop, dancing, and joking with one another as they clear chairs from tabletops.

When the baristas notice you standing at the door, they’ll hurriedly head your way, sincere smiles spread across their faces. Nine times out of ten, they’ll welcome you in early and slide behind the cash register to get started on your order.

Often, you’ll find Curtis manning the bar. His bashful grin and gentle voice are a soothing balm to the most hectic mornings. Curtis is rarely chatty, but the twinkle in his eyes communicates his conscientious service and a love for his work.

Curtis behind bar at Humphreys Street CoffeeFirst-time visitors are quickly won over by the aesthetic of the shop—the high ceilings, natural light streaming through the windows, and the dreamy backyard patio. Add to the list that popular musicians frequent the space and it becomes increasingly difficult to stay away from this adorable shop. (Oh, and the coffee is damn good.)

But the magic of Humphreys Street isn’t in its interior design or even its high-quality roasts. It’s in the organization’s anti-racism roots and consistent community impact.

Humphreys Street is part of a greater mission to fight for equality and justice in one of Nashville’s most underinvested and predominantly Black communities. Through hiring students to roast beans and serve as baristas, Humphreys Street is raising up leaders and empowering youth with skills in customer service, marketing, and craftsmanship. In addition to job training, employees are exposed to college tours, trade schools, financial literacy training, and scholarship opportunities.
Barista at Humphreys Street Coffee
Recently, Brian Hicks, cofounder of Humphreys Street, shared the organization’s approach to anti-racism, and his message bears repeating.

“We are not new to the game when it comes to dealing with issues of race. Since our inception, we have been committed to listening to our community and standing in solidarity with our neighbors. We demonstrate our commitment to racial equality in our hiring practices (a majority of our staff is people of color) and as we partner with neighbors for community change.

While the commitment to racial equality and justice is essential to our work, we recognize that we still have room to grow. We need to increase the diversity of our board so that a majority is people of color. I am committing to work with our leadership to ensure that becomes a reality in the near future. I don’t claim to have all the answers and I’m aware that as a person of privilege, I am often blind to my own subtle forms of racist behavior. I am committed to be an anti-racist and this begins with listening.

At a recent staff meeting, one of our staff members was sharing about her struggles as a Black woman in this present reality and she simply said, 'I’m just tired.' Unfortunately, too often, people of color have had to bear the burden of racism and the responsibility to bring about reconciliation—this should not be so.

What would it look like if we all became tired together?

Tired of the senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor & so many other people of color.
Tired of oppression.
Tired of people of color being disproportionately impacted by poverty.
Tired of people of color facing harsher penalties for similar offenses.
Tired of the fact that too often Black people are afraid of legal authorities & have to train their children how to be safe when engaging with authorities.
Tired of inequalities in housing & education based on race.
Tired of unfair hiring practices.
Tired of unequal access to healthy food in Black communities.
Tired of COVID-19 & other illnesses disproportionately killing people of color.
Tired of not being heard when peacefully protesting.
Maybe if we became tired together, change would happen.”

The heartbeat of Humphreys Street Coffee Shop is obvious to visitors. “Drink Good Coffee for a Change” is stamped on to-go cups and painted on one of the walls. Customers love the double-meaning of the phrase, simultaneously hyping the quality of coffee and challenging coffee lovers to do their part in making change.

It’s a special treat to order excellent coffee and know your purchase supports underprivileged communities. But is it enough? 

Not if we truly care about eliminating racism. Yes, it’s time to invest our money in fighting inequality. But it’s also time to put our emotions, words, and actions into advancing the anti-racism movement. It’s time to become tired together.

To learn more about the work of Humphreys Street, visit their website here.

Bags of coffee from Humphreys Street CoffeeThree baristas at Humphreys Street Coffee

Photography courtesy of Humphreys Street Coffee

About The Author: Cristy Wicks is a freelance marketer who keeps a natural Ethiopian roast within reach at all times. From Helsinki to Paris and back to Nashville, she works from cafes all over the world and loves connecting with baristas and bartenders along the way. She and her husband enjoy hosting rambunctious game nights, themed dinner parties, and casual cocktail evenings in their Nashville home.