A South Seattle Coffee Shop’s Unique Approach to Supporting Local Youth

Creative Cafe, a coffee shop in Washington Hall, is a joint effort between nonprofits Creative Justice and Black Power Unlimited, which preserves the historical building and advocates for local Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. The cafe opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and pays homage to the late Rahwa Habte, a Seattle community organizer and co-founder of Cypher Cafe, which operated in the same space until it shuttered during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.

Creative Cafe’s grand opening in January felt like a “full-circle moment,” said Asmeret Habte, Rahwa’s sister and business partner. The cafe is also home to a unique fellowship program designed by Creative Justice to offer job training and expand access to careers in Seattle’s coffee industry for youth of color. Four young baristas are currently part of the 18-month fellowship, which began in January. In addition to making espresso drinks, the baristas receive training on workplace leadership and labor rights. With mentorship from Blas Alfaro, of local wholesaler Fulcrum Coffee Roasters, fellows also learn how to ethically source and roast coffee beans and repair espresso machines.

The nonprofit currently funds the cafe with the goal of it becoming self-sustaining. When customers buy a latte at Creative Cafe, their money directly supports the fellowship and Creative Justice’s programs. The newest era of the cafe “has been birthed out of the vision for the community,” said Nikkita Oliver, a local attorney and executive director of Creative Justice. “Every dollar that they’re spending is going back into making sure that this growing community is more sustainable and more accessible for more and more people.”

Creative Cafe continues the community-building legacy Habte cultivated at Cypher and Hidmo, where she honed her vision of empowering people to dismantle oppression by building bonds with their neighbors via food, art, and music. After Hidmo closed in 2010, the Habte family and Heidi Jackson, co-founder of Washington Hall-based nonprofit Black Power Unlimited, explored new ways to provide an anchor for social life in the neighborhood. In 2016, the renovation of Washington Hall brought in anchor partners 206 Zulu, Voices Rising, and Habte’s Hidmo/Cypher Cafe, which would later become Black Power Unlimited.

As gentrification displaced Black venues in the Central District, the organization’s presence at Washington Hall became part of a larger effort to preserve history, heritage, and culture in the neighborhood. Creative Justice has done a phenomenal job to create a safe space for all the youth. Ava Pearson, 18, who was briefly incarcerated at the King County Youth Detention Center, has participated in Creative Justice’s programs since 2020, and says the organization “set me in a good position.”

Inside the shop, Pearson and her co-workers curate playlists of neo-soul music that fill the historical walls, and customers lounge with cups of coffee on a comfy leather couch. Nearby, there is a lodge room for rehearsals or dinners and a robust library of books highlighting the works of Black authors.

In the future, Pearson wants to explore more career opportunities in the coffee business or even open up her own coffee shop.

Read More @ Seattle Times

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