Cxffeeblack's Renata Henderson and Bartholomew Jones Make Connections [re-air]
In this episode from July 2020, we chat about legacy and reclaiming coffee's Black identity and origins.
In my last newsletter piece, I talked about how customers and community aren’t the same thing. My inspiration for that article was a tweet from the team at Cxffeeblack, regarding their IRL café space, The Anti-Gentrification Cxffee Club. With that fresh in my mind, I decided to pull this episode from July 2020 so you could learn more about Cxffeeblack and its founders, Renata Henderson and Bartholomew Jones.
This re-air is quite a bit longer than most recent Boss Barista episodes, so I want to jump right in—but I also want to promote two projects from Cxffeeblack first. One is a limited-edition sneaker they’ve released to fund a cross-global coffee exchange, and the other is a documentary the team made, released in March 2022. Check out the trailer here, watch the documentary by joining Patreon, and keep an eye on their Instagram account for tour dates to watch.
Hey friends, this is Boss Barista. I am Ashley Rodriguez.
I'm honored to have two guests on the show today: Bartholomew Jones and Renata Henderson of Cxffeeblack.
To say that Cxffeeblack is a coffee roasting company is an understatement. Cxffeeblack is a brand, an educational platform, a music outlet, and an informative podcast connecting the ancestral history of coffee to the modern day. Renata and Bartholomew, who are married and raising two children in Memphis, didn’t just aim to start a business, but set off on a mission to impact social change.
“The coffee plant was stolen from Africa in 1616 by two Dutch spies. Three years later, the first stolen bodies landed in Jamestown, Virginia.” These two sentences are written on the back of each bag of Guji Mane, an Ethiopian coffee from the Sidamo region that they sell on their website.
In this episode, we talk a lot about intent, history, and self-knowledge. Both Renata and Bartholomew tie their own personal histories and the colonial history of coffee to the current state of the industry, and they challenge how we view and consume coffee today.
For so many people, the memories of coffee they have growing up—as an occasion to gather with family and share stories—don’t match up with what the specialty coffee landscape actually looks like. This episode is about making connections, both the tangible—like what does it mean when the specialty coffee industry doesn’t reflect the experience of its members, in particular Black people, from whom coffee was stolen—and abstract connections, like how identity and life experience manifest in the artistic and creative endeavors that we take on.
Cxffeeblack is a creative enterprise, and much of that energy comes from the connection and freedom of expression that Renata and Bartholomew have made together. So here's our conversation:
Ashley: Say that again.
Bartholomew: I didn't know if we needed to press anything, but that's cool. We're live.
Ashley: Oh yeah, we're live. We're here. We're doing it. Can I have both of you introduce yourselves?
Renata: Yeah. So I am Renata Henderson. I don't have any cool stage names like my husband [Laughs]. By day I work with early childhood centers and train families, and by any other time of the day, I do calligraphy. I go by Brown Girl Lettering. I am on Instagram. I have a website, but it needs some work, so don’t go to it. [Laughs]. So yeah, that's me.
Bartholomew: Ok, dope. I'm Bartholomew Jones. That's my preferred name, and Renata is my wife. I consider myself the co-founder of Cxffeeblack, my wife started it with me. She's the first one that ever—she was our first investor. She bought my first espresso machine, the first Christmas of our wedding.
Renata: I invested when we first met too. We can get back to that.
Bartholomew: Yeah, we can talk about that.
Renata: It was a $4 investment. [Laughs]
Ashley: Yeah, let's talk about that. Let's—well, let's finish your introduction.
Bartholomew: Oh yeah. So I'm an educator. I'm an MC and I'm a coffee nerd. I just am excited and passionate about coffee as a means to eradicate poverty and create generational wealth in Black families in the diaspora. So yeah, that's what I'm excited about doing.
Ashley: That's awesome. It seems silly to say these things while we're on air, because we've spent 20 minutes talking before we even pressed record, but I feel the need to express how excited I am to talk to both of you because I've been listening to the Cxffeeblack podcast, and it's one of the only podcasts I've listened to more than once, that I've had to rewind and be like, ‘Wait a minute. Hold on. Let me write this down.’
Because there's so much good information in there that I don't think gets talked about a lot in coffee—we'll talk about that. But I wanna go back to what Bartholomew, you said earlier about Renata being your first investor. Let's talk a little bit about how you two met and how you two coming together kind of inspired Cxffeeblack, or at least helped launch this brand for you.
Bartholomew: So you wanna go first or I wanna go…
Renata: I don't know. Whatever we do, it has to be abbreviated, okay? So we told the story the other day and literally it took three hours. And I don't think you have space for that throughout the podcast…
Ashley: We can just do like this in like stages. Like, we'll just drop full seasons…
Renata: We’re gonna do basics, like first-base basic.
Bartholomew: Yeah. Okay. Long story short—long, long story short—I met Renata at my first hip hop show after graduating from college. We met, I did my performance. We had both just gotten out of really kind of toxic relationships and were in that stage where people of faith kind of get into where they're like, ‘I just wanna focus on God. I don't wanna date anyone. Like, I just need to—’
Renata: Well, he was there, I think I wasn’t.
Bartholomew: Okay [laughs]. So she wasn't there. I was definitely like, I just wanna focus on God.
Renata: I was like, ‘I wanna focus on God with a man.’
Bartholomew: [Laughs] I was like, ‘I wanna focus on God.’ I had just graduated, just moved back to Memphis. So I was really big on like, I wanted to change my community through education and through the arts because I was a hip hop artist, and so that was kind of my big focus. When I got off stage, she ended up coming up and talking to me and I don't really remember exactly what we talked about.
Renata: I don't remember exactly, but he had these download cards that he had made and he was selling and I was just trying to get a foot in the door. I just wanted to talk to him.
He showed me the card and I was like, ‘Yeah, how much do I need?’
He was like, ‘A dollar.’
And I was like, ‘Okay, cool. I only have a five.’
So he said, ‘Yeah, I'll take the five.’
I was like, ‘Uh, I'll take my change.’ And so to this day, was it seven years ago? Seven years later, he has not paid me my $4.
Bartholomew: Oh my god.
Renata: Let it be put on record. That definitely was the first investment.
Ashley: So those $4 are what launched this brand.
Bartholomew: Yes, definitely. But she would always, she just made me feel—so one thing you gotta know about growing up in the hood is that coffee is normal. Like coffee is normal. It's a ritual to be able to drink it. Mama's Brew talked about this too, right? Where it's like, being able to drink coffee is almost a sign of moving out of childhood. So yeah, it's a part of our community and my wife's family has a beautiful story about their connection with coffee and legacy and all of that.
But for us, it's one of those things where coffee shops were very much a white thing, you know what I mean? So a coffee shop was very much so different than like, just going to your house to drink a cup of Folger’s.
So coffee shops were kind of like a weird space where I always felt like the weird Black guy in there because there weren't other Black people. But my wife Renata has always been just this big person who normalized being Black in coffee spaces for me.
So like our first date, I had been going to all these coffee shops, and at the time I was very excited about going to coffee shops and trying to figure out who had the best espresso, specifically who had the best lattes with no flavoring, because I was excited that I could like, drink lattes with no flavoring.
Our first date, she emailed me, we ended up talking back and forth and I was like, ‘Hey, do you like coffee?’ And she said yes. And I was like, ‘Yo, I know a spot that has the best lattes in town,’ which I would never take anybody to their spot now. I'm so ashamed now…
Renata: Don’t even say the name.
Bartholomew: No, don’t say the name!
But it to me, her saying as a Black woman saying, ‘Yes, I'll go here with you. Yes, I'll experiment with this with you. Yes, I'll try this weird thing that you're into,’ made me feel like it was okay to be Black in that space. And she's just done that our whole marriage.
Like if Renata wasn’t there, saying yes and telling me that I'm not crazy and like, normalizing these things. Even before I knew coffee was historically Black, my wife made it relationally Black. You know what I mean? She made it safe to be Black and like coffee. Even if it was just me and her, you know? She never criticized me or questioned me or made me feel—and that's a thing because it was like kind of socially deviant to be really [into coffee], but I've always been a weirdo, as a kid, you know, but my wife made it so normal…
Renata: He was wearing a trenchcoat when we met and it was like, July.
Bartholomew: I was really in my like indie rapper bag. Like I was skinny—
Renata: I thought it was so cute. I was like, ‘Oh, this guy is a cutie.’ [Laughs]
Bartholomew: Yes. I was all the way in my like weird indie, blog rap bag with like trenchcoats and backpacks and boots.
Renata: Committed. [Laughs]
Ashley: Where do you think that that comes from? That ability to create comfort in a situation that could potentially be uncomfortable? You mentioned by yourself, you were like, ‘I'm not gonna do this,’ but together you're able to create that sense of like, ‘This is where I'm gonna go, because this is where I want to go.’
Bartholomew: Well, I think for me, I was willing to do it. I was doing it, but I didn't feel like it was Black, if that makes sense. To me it felt like me doing a weird thing that Black people don't do. But when my wife—and she could speak to what it is about her that gave her like a more inclusive vision of Blackness—but when my wife said, ‘Yes, I'll do this with you,’ it made me feel like, ‘Oh, this could be a community thing. It's not just something that weird Maurice likes.’
Renata: Kinda to preface the whole $4 incident, when I met him, he was a breath of fresh air. So compared to some of the polluted air I had been breathing before, to meet him and to hear these were the things that he was invested in, he was committed to, I was automatically in because those were the things that made him him.
And so for me, it kind of comes from like how I was raised. My mom was always a big—like whatever I wanted to pursue, she was behind it. She was the biggest cheerleader of my entire life. I definitely learned that from her, but also just like understanding this is what comes with him and it's a great package.
He's not just saying, ‘Hey girl, I'll give you the world,’ just coming with empty promises and—I don't know, just this lame persona. He was very much a person of substance and I was just like, ‘Man, I want to invest in whatever makes you you.’ And so it made it easy.
I was like, of course. I mean, he at the same time invested in things—at the time, and I mean, and I still am—I think I actually am more now interested in directing.
Bartholomew: Oh yeah, we got a music video dropping tomorrow.
Renata: Yeah, we got a music video dropping tomorrow that we both co-filmed, co-directed. But I was totally into just like playwriting and directing and all that kind stuff, and he was very much so interested in that.
So on our first date, he pulled out his phone and turned on the song and said, ‘Hey, so what would you do to this song? What kind of video would you make from this song?’ And so we just kind of sat there and just dreamed together. That was our first time really talking to each other, like talking talking. It was great because it was somebody who could dream with me, and so I think we both have been in a place since we've been dating, been in a place where we've been free to dream.
It makes the things that we pursue that much more worth it, you know? Because it's like, you have permission from the other person to do that—and you don't even need the permission. That's just the standard. We dream, that's the norm, we are dreamers. That's just what we do.
Ashley: That's pretty powerful to be in a marriage, having this life that you've built for the two of you, and then having a family and then being able to also put your creative pursuits in this together.
I've worked for a lot of coffee shops where the owners are married and that has never been good. But it's so powerful to hear you two talk about what about the two of you feeds into each other’s ability to dream and to pursue interesting creative endeavors. I think that speaks a lot to the intentionality behind Cxffeeblack, which I wanna get into in a moment, but Renata, I wanna talk a little bit about your relationship with coffee and how you grew up understanding coffee in your life.
Renata: So my biggest relationship with coffee was with my grandfather, maternal grandfather. He drank coffee every day. I don't remember not seeing him drink coffee, and I learned recently as an adult that he had a thermos that he would take with him to work.
He was actually a sanitation worker—I'll get to that part of the story as well—but he worked there and then he worked with—there's a utility company that's a huge monopoly here in Memphis, MLGW, he worked there as well, which for that timeframe was actually a good accomplishment for his family financially.
From my earliest remembrance of coffee, he would always have a cup of coffee that was completely white, all the sugar, all the cream, not coffee black at all. And I would just look at it, I would just be smelling the flavors wafting up to my nose and I would be like, “Can I have some?” Every day he would give me a sip of his coffee [Laughs].
Which is funny because you always hear in Black culture that like, coffee gonna stunt your growth. It'll either make you short or make you Black, which is hilarious. So there was always this fear in the back of my mind that I would be short, which I'm not short—I’m about 5’9”, 9.5.”
Bartholomew: [Laughs] Short and real Black.
Renata: That I’ll be little, I guess. But he would always let me try it and it was never a weird thing. I feel like my dad drank coffee for a little bit, because he always worked night shifts and so it wasn't ever like this weird thing.
I will say as I've gotten older, the experience as a Black woman, specifically in coffee spaces, is way different from experiencing that with my grandfather. It's not as pleasant. People don't offer you sips of their finest lattes or their finest pourovers or whatever.
It’s very much when you come in, who do you know? Who are you with? If I’m with my husband, sometimes acknowledge my presence.
Bartholomew: We have to check folks, though.
Renata: And he definitely—a little bit about me, I don't feel the need ever to prove myself. So if anybody ever asks me something, I will answer. But you're never gonna see me walking into a room, forcing people to see me because I believe if you are something you don't ever have to tell somebody. If you're a sophisticated person or if you're intelligent, you don't ever have to say out loud, “I am intelligent,” or “I am valuable” because you are valuable, it’s just who you are.
So with that belief in mind, I'm not gonna walk in and beg somebody to talk to me. So for me, my experience has been, “Okay, I'm going in here. You're not saying anything. You don't get my presence. You lose that,” you know?
It makes for an experience where it's not united, we don't get to experience it together. For a while he would say, “Hey, you wanna go in?” I'm like, “No.”
Bartholomew: Yes, you wouldn't go.
Renata: I was like, “No, I wanna go in there. Are they going say something to me?”
Bartholomew: People just wouldn't even speak.
Renata: People just wouldn't speak. Or they would come straight up to him and have a conversation and I'm just standing there. There were so many times where if I'm standing here and you guys are having a conversation, I would just walk away. I know there are other types of women who probably would be like, “Well just say something,” and yeah, I get it. But for me, I’m just choosing which battles I'm gonna fight and that's not one of them—or I guess it wasn't because we definitely have had some conversations since then.
Bartholomew: I've just had to like literally tell people, “Hey, this is my wife, Renata.”
Renata: “Hey, this is a person!”
Bartholomew: Like in the middle of a conversation, I’ll be like, “Yo, you didn't speak to my wife.”
Renata: To the point now that some people awkwardly are like, “Hey Renata, how are you doing today?”
Bartholomew: Which is another problem.
Renata: It's a whole other conversation because there’s fear that I'm gonna just like go off on them, which is very possible.
But [Laughs], I don't know where my attitude may take me. I'm very much an angry Black woman. I am. And people are always like, “I don't wanna be that.” I'm like, “Why? You can be angry.” I'm not a perpetually angry woman, but I'm an angry Black woman. I'm a happy Black woman.
I think it's just been such an interesting world—you know how there's the whole James Brown song, “A Man's World?” “But it wouldn't be nothing without a woman or a girl,” which is hilarious that that song has always been funny to me, but how coffee feels to me—it’s very much “this is a coffee man's world,” which is a different.
It’s like coffee nerds and snobs. It's like, y’all like—
Bartholomew: Really lame.
Renata: Y'all kind of nerdy, but you got your own world. I appreciate it. But that doesn't mean you can write somebody out.
It's been a journey from sharing that that that full of sugar, full of cream, coffee with my granddaddy to these third-wave shops that claim to be the best, inclusive, where they’re about thinking all these different people's rights, but you don't treat those people like you are. So it's been an interesting journey.
Now I'm at a place where I don't immediately get annoyed when he says, “Hey, I would like to go to a coffee shop for a day.” I'm finally at a place where I don't get triggered. There are some people that I'm just like—and I think I said something to one guy, like, “So were you gonna say anything to me?” Or I go in and I ask for something like, because I generally at this point I can't drink coffee because I'm getting old. And so it makes my heart palpitate.
Bartholomew: Old and fine, though!
Ashley: I was about to say I think the two of you are younger than me.
Renata: So [Laughs] if you are close to my age, you can relate after 30. But yeah, whenever I [used to] go to get him things, I have to validate it by saying, “Oh yeah, I'm getting this for Bart.” You know? So I'm just at a point where I'm like, “No, I'm not gonna do that. You gonna remember me, you know?”
Bartholomew: Yeah. And then the other problem where then people start trying to overcompensate. Because like, I literally—can we curse on this?
Ashley: You can say whatever you want.
Bartholomew: It's not cursing anyway. I just be having to check n— like, “Yo, you gonna speak to my wife?” And then people overcompensate and then they try to be her best friend. Which is another, like—if you know my wife, she's just like, “I don't really know you like that. I just wanted you to speak to me. Please don't come over here and talk to me for 20 minutes about espresso extraction or like the latest Beyonce album. I don't wanna talk to you about that.” I feel like people don’t know how to interact with Black women, especially in coffee shops. People don’t know what to do.
Renata: It's like being in a safari and you encounter a lion that is dangerously close to your vehicle that you're in and you're trying to figure out, “Do we drive away or do we stay calm…and drive away?”
Renata: Yeah. That's how I feel like when I'm in the [cafe], they're like, “Oh my gosh, there's an exotic animal.” You know? Yeah. It's annoying [and] these conversations that we've had. And then there are some—like one shop that my husband worked at, there was never an issue. They were super cool.
Bartholomew: But they were skaters though.
Renata: It was a coffee slash skater shop, and everybody was super chill, very respectful.
Bartholomew: You did come in there a lot.
Renata: I came in there a lot because people were very normal.
Bartholomew: People were humans before they were coffee professionals.
Renata: I feel like in the space for skaters, like nobody ever looked [at us]. I took the boys in there to watch them on the ramps and nobody would ever look at us like we didn't belong. Like ever. And even at one point, there was a guy who was like, “You guys might wanna go because they had music blasting … you might wanna go into this room that's back here and soundproof.” Actually looking out for us, which is a whole different level, you know?
Ashley: You said so many interesting things in that story you told, and there are two that I kind of wanna talk about. The first one being that you both co-own this business together and yet people are talking to Bart maybe more than they are to you, Renata. Which is like a real thing that happens—my partner is a coffee professional as well. And so often, not to put him on blast, but like I'm smarter than he is—
Renata: Well for us it's less about, it's established which is smarter, okay. There's not a conversation.
Bartholomew: My wife is definitely smarter.
Renata: But [Laughs] I think we've kind of hit a flow. It's less of like who's on the front. Because for me—a couple things. I like doing design. I do design for our coffee bags, for our apparel, things like that. Whatever you see on social media, if you see it, I did it. With the exception of maybe a couple designs—
Bartholomew: If it's a Helvetica font! [Laughs] I’ve got one font!
Renata: He did it. If it's anything a little bit more creative, even just slightly more creative, it's probably me. I do that and then I like to do like behind-the-scenes work. So since we've had an uptick in sales and all that, I've definitely been on fulfillment, customer service, human resources, which is [Sings “A whole new world.”] That's a different thing. And then also sing. I just remembered that.
Bartholomew: She does so many different things. She’s teaching me when you listen to Cxffeeblack and hear where I'm singing, It's my wife coaching me and any harmonies or any of the melodic work, Renata does. And she does a lot of songwriting too. People don't know that. We write songs together. I never really finish because whenever I write, I freestyle. So then I just go to her and be like, “Was this good? What should we change?”
Renata: The flow that we hit, it’s like Bart’s the face, because I'm not gonna take away the fact that he's got words. This man, when we met, the way he proposed to me—if I can go on a slight rabbit trail—
Ashley: Go for it.
Renata: Very slight. I was teaching at a school, he came up—there's so much more context to this—but we were in an auditorium and he started freestyling about questions. This idea that questions show the vulnerable side of you. And when you ask a question, you're really placing yourself in the position to be truly seen by this person because you're saying things that you may or may not know. And I like, I don't know, something that was deep and I was like, “Ooh, okay.”
And you just made this whole long monologue [Laugh]. I mean, what’s it called?
Bartholomew: I think it was monologue.
Renata: Oh, okay. I'm sorry. I'm bringing out mom brain.
So he goes in this long thing and then he gets something out of his backpack and jumps down to where I was in the audience. I'm the only person there. This was during parent teacher conferences, might I add. So I don't know if there were parents in my room, but he jumps down and gets down on both knees and says, “Will you marry me?”
And I was like, “Are you for real? I thought you—are you serious? I thought you were just doing one of your normal, like—”
Bartholomew: Random, crazy random.
Renata: So he's got the words and I'm completely fine with that. And I think for him, as far as as it pertains to coffee, talk to Bart. As far as it pertains to like—we've had a lot of opportunities recently to talk about racial injustices and some systemic things that have been more on the frontlines here in America recently.
Those are things we talk about literally all the time. To go back to the conversation about my grandfather, so he was a sanitation worker during the sanitation strike of 1963. When Dr. King heard about the strike, he came down and joined in the efforts with them. That's been a really big part of my family heritage.
And family's huge. Family is number one for me. That's a big deal for me. When I met Bart, it was just like, this is top priority. It was understood for both of us. Family's priority, so we were passed down this heritage. We’ve done protests literally our entire lives. We've been celebrating Juneteenth since we were like seven or eight, we did Kwanza and when we were younger, all those types of things that are now considered quote unquote “woke.” But it's just part of who we are.
I think my grandfather was a huge part of that, instilling that in his family. That's something that I love to get a chance to talk about. My husband and I really get—when we're talking about it, you get a chance to get a peek into where that was rooted and how this is impacting the direction we’re moving our family, and the values that we're building based off of that. And I also just prefer to be not in front of the camera.
Bartholomew: My wife is someone who I just feel like to speak to her is a privilege, and she's so annoyed by so many people in coffee.
Renata: I'm just annoyed in general. I went up on a police officer one time—
Bartholomew: Yes. And I was like, baby gonna die. Baby gonna die.
Renata: It was just something random. I sometimes—(pause) oh, whoa, [Laughs] technical difficulties. Sometimes I don't know what may come out of my mouth because I can be super chill. Like I'm super chill. But if I feel triggered or if I feel like attacked and it’s something that's very important to me—and so if I feel attacked or I feel like somebody is being unjustly attacked or targeted, there's no stopping me. There's no stopping me.
Ashley: Something I never connected, and going backwards on something you said earlier, was this idea that in a lot of cultures that coffee is just like so much part of your existence. You're growing up—and I say this even for myself, I'm Cuban, so coffee is everywhere in my family. And even thinking about bringing my grandfather to a specialty coffee shop. I'd be like, he would have no fucking clue what's going on here, right? Because this is not tailored for him. And yet coffee's such a rite of passage for me for growing up.
Same thing: The first taste you get of coffee is like you as an adult. And I was definitely told for a long time if I drank coffee, it would stunt my growth, which I'm 5’8”…
Bartholomew: Where did that come from?
Ashley: I don’t know! It’s good to hear that it’s a thing apparently—
Renata: It’s a thing!
Ashley: But I think that that's so interesting that like so much of the way that we consume coffee isn't reflected in the way that we actually project coffee on the specialty side. So at what point did you take all these experiences and decide like, ‘Okay, we're making a coffee brand, like this is what we're doing.’ Hmm.
Bartholomew: I think for me, those experiences with my wife, they were kind of happening at the same time as me, like I—I've always been just odd. So like being really into things that just weren't normal to be into in my neighborhood. Like my homies in college would call me the hood hipster.
Contextually, I definitely grew up in Memphis and in the hood in Memphis, but also was just on a regular basis would be off doing things that other people weren't doing for multiple reasons. Number one is like the things that other people were doing, a lot of times could lead to you dying. Well, my mama wouldn’t let me do that, but personally was like, I don't know if I wanna participate in this.
Secondly, I think that's just kind of how I'm created. This is how God made me is just a weird person. I think it took somebody like my wife to be like, ‘You know what? You might have something going on like that actually might be worth like investing in.’
My weird obsession with coffee, I think meeting my wife, God bringing us together, was really it turning into a weird specific interest of mine to now—this is reconnecting specialty coffee back to a family and then back to a community of families and then back to a larger race and ethnic group, right? A sociopolitical group—and connecting coffee's wellbeing to all those things.
So the resources and the experiences I was having in coffee, much like when I went to college, I realized there’s this wealth of resources and experiences over here that are not present in my family, in my neighborhood and in my larger community and ethnic group.
And so I was like, ‘Why is that?’ Why is there this dissonance between these things? As we did research, we came upon like the well-known fact that at this point that coffee is Black, right? It comes from a Black nation and then it was proliferated into many Black and Brown communities through colonialism. Then I realized, okay, from what me and my wife both know about how racism works, how colonialism works, is that it dehumanizes things. It strips identity away from things and then recasts them, whitewashes them as indigenous to the colonizer's culture. Or, anything valuable becomes synonymous with the culture of the colonizer. And so therefore it causes the Indigenous people to see a dissonance between themselves and their own resources, right?
We're seeing a dissonance between ourselves and coffee, to the point to where we say, ‘Don't drink too much coffee, it'll make you Black.’ You know what I mean? Literally make your skin darker, which we also internalize as being bad. So like for us, these things obviously are idiosyncrasies that need to be rectified.
We were like, “There has to be something we can do about this.” And so in my own identity and in our own family, we have seen coffee become very normalized because I'm a rapper, because my wife's singer, because we're both educators, because we're both people of faith, because we're both in our actual community. We moved into the hood together.
We talked about that on our first date too. I was like, ‘Look, we ain't gonna have no big house. I wanna move in the hood and do work.’
She was like, “Oh yeah, I already planned on doing that,” she was like, “I'm already doing that”—I thought I had found this really cool idea. But it was integral, as we're like mentoring young Black and Brown women and Black and Brown men and discipling people and raising our children and working on education reform, we're making pourovers at the house—and well, I'm making pourovers and trying to convince my wife to drink the pourover. [Laughs] “Do you taste these notes?”
At the same time, I'm recording raps in my house and listening to the new Kendrick Lamar album and all these things are happening in the same space and it's like, “Wow, this is really beautiful. What if we could proliferate this on in other households and in other spaces in our community where it's not something that has to be seen from the colonizer's lens, but something that can be reclaimed and then reintroduced back just as a part of our life.”
Renata: As what it actually is.
Bartholomew: As what it actually is and what it should be.
I think my wife touched on something really beautiful. She was like, our marriage has been built on dreaming. I think Renata even at that show—I'm at this show trying to get my little dream out. I'm trying to live my life as a weird indie rapper in the middle of a city that has a ton of gangster rap and also trying to like get my little gangster rap vibe on in the middle of a bunch of weird hipsters who are like, “We don't really get it, what's going on with this dude? Like why is he so aggressive?”
My wife sees that and gives me room and permission to do that. And then that initiates a cycle where we do this for each other. The reason why we do this is because at the end of the day, this is the experience we have with our creator, with God, is that he's giving us permission to be who we were meant to be and not to have to conform to other people's quote unquote “sugar and cream.” You know what I mean? And so just having the notes we have and being celebrated for those.
Renata: I always think of being made with purpose. I know some people are of the thought that there is no purpose, right, which they're entitled to that. But I think in creating and then having a creator, the purpose that we're made with is what we should therefore make with. We are made with purpose, so we should therefore make with purpose.
The things that we do, the conversations that we have, the art that we take part in and create should have purpose and have a deep meaning and build into the identity of the people that it is for.
Bartholomew: I think specifically you saw, and we touched on this earlier, but having a why for what you're doing and seeing like, okay, we're doing coffee not just to tell people, “Hey, come try this coffee,” but we're doing coffee with the reasoning in mind that this is for you to reclaim and then use as a resource to achieve your purpose in your life. Right? So this has a utility for you that we have identified.
Renata: It's so funny. That's such a needed ideology for people to claim or to really commit to understanding is that—let me get my thoughts together…
In thinking about the way that I've talked to other people about Cxffeeblack, because I've had conversations with white people who are just like, “What is Cxffeeblack? Is it just for Black people?” There's so many questions about it like, “Can I be a part of this if I'm not Black?” Which has been a huge question. The answer's always yes. One, because we will always take your money. [Laughs] Your money does not have to be Black. It has to be green or digital. But I think it's this idea of people understanding inherently who they are.
And people don’t. I've had conversations with white people and it's kind of a weird conversation to explain to them—we're reclaiming our heritage as Black people. Like coffee is Black, and in that, you can find things in your heritage that you can actually claim that's actually yours that doesn’t include land or foods and culture, if you get the drift.
The funny thing is I've had [a guy], I mean he's probably like 42, a 42-year-old white man with two kids tell me, “No one has ever told me to claim my heritage. Nobody ever gave me permission to do that.” Which is sad. That's sad that you don't get to experience that. But I think what we're building is a new norm and it can apply.
Are we talking to white people specifically in that? No.
Bartholomew: But it's a principle.
Renata: It's a principle. I think so many people are just wandering and just like, “I have no earthly clue. I have no earthly clue what I'm doing. And I've never had permission. Nobody's ever told me I inherited this stolen land and I inherited these stolen people.”
This isn't me saying, “Woe is white people,” but I'm saying that this is the issue we're facing right now. We have so many groups of people who never understood your identity is not wrapped up in these positions that you have—even this idea that you have of who you are is warped.
I think in having these conversations and in talking about Cxffeeblack, I've gotten so many opportunities. I mean, it's been great talking to Black people about it because they're like, “Oh man, that's all right.” Because people know that coffee's been a part [of their lives]. Their grandma drinks coffee every morning, most likely. Everybody has somebody who drinks coffee. It's so cool to see this is something I can claim in a world of things, especially as a Black person, that I was told was never mine or I don't deserve. Or I need to just go back to wherever I came from because I'm in the way. Or that I was never meant to be a part of this narrative. It's so cool to hear that this was actually meant to be a part of our narrative.
W're taking it back and we are treating it as so, and we're moving forward with it. There's no stopping it. I think it's growing now and seeing the waves across the world, but just like, if there were more things that we could claim, that we would reclaim that were originally ours—and not in this Gollum-like obsessive way, almost to your own detriment—but in this way that builds up a hope that was lost in a people, from the existence of a country, to start rebuilding that and be unapologetic about it, I think it's so necessary. It's a necessary conversation.
Ashley: I think this goes back to one of the foundational stories that you told about asking questions and how vulnerable it is to actually ask a question. But at the same time to ask a question almost admits to like, “I don't know this thing that's happening around me. Let me question what's happening around me and say like, ‘Hey, why is this this way? Why is that that way?’”
I also wrote that down just because it touched me really deeply, as a person who interviews people, I'm like, “Oh, that's why I like asking questions—because I like that process,” but it also just kind of speaks to this idea of centering yourself in your own space. And maybe I'm getting a little bit weird, but like we were talking about earlier, people open up coffee shops with no intention, and it's because they don't know how to ask questions about the world around them because they've never really had to.
Bartholomew: Come on. Now you better preach.
Ashley: I mean, I'm learning this from you.
Bartholomew: So white people ask me all the time, “Yo, how can we, how can speciality coffee—” and this was probably my least favorite interviewer question because it centers whiteness and because it's just like—I think it's the opposite of what they intended, because it's trying to be a very humble question, but it comes across as extremely arrogant.
“How can specialty coffee be more welcoming for Black people? Or how can we get more Black people in specialty?” Like some iteration of that question. I hate that question, the reason why I hate that question is because that question assumes that—
Renata: Black people aren’t part of specialty coffee.
Bartholomew: And even worse, it assumes that Black people need specialty coffee.
You need Black people. You obviously went over there and stole something from them. So you must need [us], it's like, you know what I mean?
Renata: I mean, we see it in the commercials, right? So they'll be selling something as dumb as deodorant, and there's a hip hop beat in the background. LeBron James is in a Sprite commercial. You need Black people, your product does not work without the products of Black people.
Bartholomew: Or without Black neighborhoods.
Renata: Without literally the culture of Black people, the whole livelihood of a Black person. Your product, your livelihood depends on it. And it has since the beginning. So for you to say, “Hey, we're doing fine over here because we obviously created this entire system on our own—”
Bartholomew: “We’re doing fine over here with our own culture.”
I think a much better stance is saying like, “Yo, how can we be in community with people? How can we be in honest and in authentic community with people who we've already disrespected and stolen from?” I think that's the question. People go into Black neighborhoods already, and they just don't ask questions when they show up. They just show up and take. People use Black products already—they just don't ask questions when they do it. They just show up and take.
Renata: That reminds me: My husband and I did a program and there was a conversation at one point about the same question—about making it more welcoming. It was the whole people of color thing, which I feel really weird about.
The conversation was just like, “What are some things?” And there were very aesthetic solutions to some of the questions that I was like, whatever, but ultimately, my question—and I don't wanna say too, too much—but my question was “Where is your heart towards Black people? We're not talking about people of color, and while that is a conversation, your real question is, ‘Why don't Black people work in this space?’”
That's your real question. And my real question to you, person [Laughs] is, “Why don't you love Black people? Where is your heart towards Black people?” And this person said that question had never been phrased to them ever. It had never been presented to them. And the issue with it is not that it's never been [asked]—I'm sure there are thousands and millions upon millions of people who that question has never been presented to. But the main population that you're serving is Black and Brown people, and no one has ever said, “Hey, before you start serving these Black and Brown people, where's your heart towards serving these same Black and Brown people?” As the leader, as the creator [of the coffee shop] or whatever.
The fact that that hadn't been a question and you haven't had conversations, you hadn't previously had conversations with people of color before you even got to this point, it just presumes so much. It is almost like an affirmative action conversation, an afterthought. It's almost like a seat at the table versus well, let me come to your table that you're already building. Instead of you have to meet me at my table, just realizing other people already have supplies. There are so many people who have their own supplies
Bartholomew: And you keep going over and taking their supplies.
Renata: You keep going over and taking supplies and you keep taking.
Bartholomew: Right. Right.
Ashley: I feel bad because I have a hundred different things I wanna talk about, but I also want this episode to be a length that is digestible because we can keep going for a while. But before we wrap up, is there anything that you wanna talk about or you'd want people to know about the two of you?
Bartholomew: I definitely feel like what I would say to people is I think community is essential and I'm not sure what type of community is essential for the work, but specifically when you're doing the work, of seeking to do liberation work, I think community is essential prior to doing the work.
Realizing who we are supposed to be as a person and realizing that in community with another human being, I think is really essential because if we are not experiencing liberation ourselves, trying to then replicate that process on a community scale, I think is [hard]—and I think at the end of the day it's healing, right? If you are not going through the process of healing, it makes it really difficult to go then and teach other people how to liberate and heal themselves if you're not experiencing that connection and reconnectivity on a microcosm.
I think we just live in a world where we do a lot of social media activism. There's a lot of tweeting about things and canceling people and hashtags. And I think there's very little work of actually rebuilding real communities, you know what I mean? Like actually going about the process of restoring humanity’s connection and destiny within a localized space. Like [say there are] these five people: What is our common purpose and how can we achieve that together? You know what I mean?
Ashley: And you two really embody that in a way just by talking about how the foundation of your relationship works. It seems like there's a lot of safety and a lot of liberation just in that, and like, “This is the bond that we've established between the two of us and look how much freedom that's given.”
Renata: Yeah. I mean, and that's why community is important to establish the work that you're already doing. I think, to piggyback to what my husband was saying, when he mentioned, “Hey, this might be the way we live.” That wasn't news to me. And it wasn't gonna be a new lifestyle to me. I was already about that life and so we weren't everything to each other.
I think a lot of people depend on, or they're waiting for, that person to be their quote unquote “completion.” I mean, we complement each other, and there are some ways that I have found healing in our relationship from past relationships or from past wounds, but he's not the completion of me.
I think a lot of people miss that, looking for that, even in the work that they're doing. And they miss it. So either you miss the person or you miss the work. And I think something that we were even talking to one our friends about the other day is like, in seeking that person or in that work that you're doing, do the work. Be faithful and do the work and see who's doing the work with you. And that's who you partner with. And that can be a partner that’s just like a business partner. That can be a husband, that can be just a partner, that can be a friend, that can be a love.
Bartholomew: But it's some type of community.
Renata: But it's a community. And it didn't depend on just you, like you already were doing work, you already had a community. And I think we both came into this work having had prior exposure, but also just like having a passion for people and for identity and heritage and just knowing your value as a person.
We both came in, we already had that, that was basic, that was just the bottom level. Having that, it made it a lot easier to just transition into the work that we started to do now. Not even started, but we're continuing right now. We've done it for a while.
Ashley: I hope people listen to this and—I don't know, think about themselves. I guess that, that, that's a weird way to phrase it. But something that I feel that you both touched on is you both had this deep sense of self, or at least a sense of self enough to see yourself in the world, ask questions and kind of root yourself in what was happening around you.
I think it's really easy to just move through the world without asking questions and not really know who you are as a person, which feels like an attack on everybody listening. But I think listening to this made me feel like it's so powerful to just know yourself and start really simply and just really think, “What am I about? What am I working towards? What world have I built around me and is it what I want?” And just asking questions and being vulnerable is really powerful. So thank you for both being on the show and thank you for being so candid and honest.
I love this conversation. I wanna keep having it. We'll probably keep talking after I stop recording. But before we do that, is there anything you wanna plug or promote or just anything that we should be watching out for?
Bartholomew: Yeah, keep your eyes [open] soon. We have really missed, like when we talk about really doing the work, I think one of the things when we talk about this liberatory experience.
My wife has kind of like, she's our breadwinner right now. Since December, really working on Cxffeeblack, since the school that we helped to start closed. And so my wife has had to do that, but she's actually in the process of feeling like she wants to pursue graphic design and calligraphy again. So be on the lookout for Brown Girl Lettering and more products, more post from her. Go follow her. She's super dope. Way smarter than me. If you like anything I say, it would be better coming from my wife's mouth.
We've really missed also being able to create around coffee in community and create community around coffee in our specific communities. And so we're looking at launching a virtual version of the Brew Up experiences that we've done. If you follow us, you're probably familiar with that, but it's a community coffee cypher where we kind of build and explore culture and art together. We're having our first demo with some friends from Chicago in August. So keep your eyes out for that.
Renata: Tomorrow is our music video.
Renata: Our second—is this our second?
Bartholomew: Yeah, our second one that we shot.
Renata: This one we have some new tech and so we were kind of nerding out—I was. I really enjoyed it. [Laughs] That'll be coming out. What time is that? Tomorrow?
Bartholomew: Tomorrow at 11 a.m. Central.
Ashley: So by the time people listen to this, it'll be live.
Renata: It'll be out, I think. Are we doing a watch party or are we doing a watch party?
Bartholomew: Yeah. Tomorrow.
Renata: Yeah, and it's a great video. It's got some of our friends down from Atlanta. Milan Credle is the featured artist on there. And then my sister, myself, and our kids are in it, and it's so cute. And Milan's wife, all people on there—shout out.
Bartholomew: Grandma's in there.
Renata: My grandma, my mom. So anyway, yeah, it's great. It kind of gives a peek into some of the legacy that I mentioned. So that’s tomorrow. And of course Cxffeeblack.com.
Ashley: Thanks again for taking time to talk to me.
Bartholomew: Thank you for having us.