Coffee Makes You Black

In terms of context, this post was written in the early evening hours of Saturday, July 13 prior to the Trayvon Martin case being decided.  My original plan was to have posted Sunday morning after a final proofing.  Other than some minor proofing changes, below are my thoughts after attending Kwabena Antione Nixon’s “Eye Write What Eye See” book event.

On Saturday I hurried to finish my chores and errands so I could attend the debut of Kwabena Antoine Nixon’s first book, “Eye Write What Eye See.”  Kwabena is best known for his advocacy work among African-American youth and as a powerful spoken word artist.

Kwabena's first book

Kwabena’s first book

Kwabena’s book signing was only a few miles from my home.  Sadly, I needed to plug the address into GPS.  You see, my destination, Coffee Makes You Black, was beyond the not-so-imaginary line that makes our city of Milwaukee one of the most segregated in the country.

During my short drive, I listened to radio reporters detail the Trayvon Martin case as the jury deliberated behind closed doors.  The media speculated on what the jury may or may not be discussing as I crossed the line between predominately white and predominately black.  My thoughts though were on the violent end of Trayvon’s life and the risks associated with being young and black in our country.

With Trayvon and his family on my heart, I walked into the coffee shop.  I sat down and listened to Kwabena tell his story of growing up as young black male on Chicago’s west side… his father murdered when he was 11, his mother strung out on drugs leaving him in the care of his grandmother, his aunts, uncles and cousins.  He talked about the constant fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The very real prospect of being killed… the continual sadness of another friend or family member being gunned down.

In contrast to his untenable circumstances, Kwabena was surrounded by the grace of his family, friends, teachers (both good and bad) and his beloved grandmother who always put her family first.  Together their voices supported his big dream:  to become a poet and a writer.   He spoke of how important his grandmother’s voice was in shaping his path and her examples for walking it boldly.  Today, despite a path riddled with danger, Kwabena is living his dream and is a published author, poet and activist using his words and his voice for the greater good of all.

While the energy, love and excitement that filled the coffee shop were palpable, I walked out feeling despondent.  Throughout the telling of Kwabena’s story, I tried to comprehend the life that he and so many others in the room had experienced under the same sky that I call America and Kwabena writes about as AmeriKKKa.  A country where the rules are different if your skin isn’t white.  A country where being young and black is an unforgiving and unsafe place.  A place where running out for Skittles is a death sentence.

Coffee Makes You Black.  Despite the coffee shop’s name, coffee will never make me black.  I will never know what it is to be black in our country.  And I will never know what it is to be a black mother and raise a black child in this country.

What I do know is,  I want to strive for peace and understanding to help bridge these imaginary dividing lines that exist in communities across this globe because as my mother taught my sister and me from an early age, “we are all God’s children.”  I want to do this because I believe and have faith in an America where everyone has a fair shot – no matter what.

While coffee won’t make you black, white, brown or any other color, it can be the medium in which we begin to build peace and understanding one cup of coffee and one brother and sister at a time.  Just like Kwabena is.