Vandals in a Seattle suburb spray-painted swastikas on the walls of a coffee shop owned by vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, local outlets reported last week.
The anti-Semitic graffiti marked the second time that Black Coffee Northwest has been targeted by racist attackers.
On the eve of the Black-owned cafe’s anticipated Oct. 1 grand opening, arsonists tossed Molotov cocktails into a back wall, causing property damage that delayed the business’s unveiling more than two weeks.
The coffee shop was targeted again Jan. 12. Co-founder Darnesha Weary said she arrived to work to find the swastikas scrawled on a “No Loitering” sign in the parking lot.
“It’s very disheartening to show up to that on my building,” Weary told supporters in a Facebook Live video where she expressed her frustrations. “I understand the ignorance and the hate of this neighborhood. But what you will not do is run us out. Stop defacing our building.”
Following the vandalism last week, Black Coffee Northwest shut down for two days to ramp up security in the shop. The family-run cafe is nestled in Shoreline, Washington, a small township about 12 miles north of downtown Seattle. But when the coffee shop reopened it doors Saturday, the owners and employees basked in a freshly brewed slow roast of community support.
Vehicles lined up around the coffee shop all weekend as customers came to get their fresh brews at the local business. It was similar to the reception Black Coffee NW received in October.
Erwin Weary, the shop’s other co-founder, admitted he didn’t expect people from near and afar to rally around his shop with such vigor.
“That’s when I knew we were on to something,” he told Atlanta Black Star on Thursday. “A sea of people from all different backgrounds came to support this cause. Not just from Shoreline, but from all over the place, all across Washington. People even came down from Oregon to support us. So it gave us all the confidence to do what we set out to. And that’s exactly what we wanted was to bring people together. Even in the midst of chaos, craziness and uncertainty, that happened. People actually came together, and it hasn’t stopped. It’s gaining momentum every single day.”
Erwin explained that the coffee shop is an outgrowth of nearly two decades of activism in Seattle that began in 2000 when Darnesha, his wife, started the Northside Drill Team and Step Team. The award-winning all-girls drill program, which collaborated with Lizzo for a visual album in 2018, boasts 100% high school graduation and 85% college admission rates.
When they opened Black Coffee NW in October, Darnesha and Erwin envisioned it as a “community hub” that would serve as a safe haven for kids. It’s a youth-centered coffee house that boasts after-school study halls and training sessions to teach the young baristas who work there how to one day own a business of their own.
“Coffee is big in Seattle, that’s what everyone does,” Erwin said. “But I also like barbershops. And I was just like, man if you could marry the two together and be a fun place where everyone could enjoy coffee, music, good music.
“It’s not just a coffee shop by a longshot,” Erwin said. “Black Coffee Northwest represents a place where Black people can come experience Blackness and feel accepted. It’s a safe place, it’s something familiar that they always wanted to see in the neighborhood. But now they have that.”
The Wearys make no secret that they are aligned with the BLM movement. That’s evidenced by the Black vendors they use to supply the store. Ethiopian coffee beans from Boon Boona, a local company, serve as lifeblood for many of the drinks. Messages of social justice etched in chalk on the pavement greet customers as they enter the parking lot.
Paintings by Black artists adorn the walls of the coffee shop, Black comic books are showcased and African woven baskets are sold in the store. The coffee cups even include famous quotes from locally known and world renowned Black icons.
Shop owners partnered with NAACP to stage a voter registration drive on Oct. 17, the day of its grand opening. They routinely host a series of “cafe conversations” to discuss serious topics affecting the community.
Not everyone is a fan of the social message steeped in the coffee shop’s brand. The business has been the target of threats such as emails that say “F your Black coffee,” Erwin told ABS.
“People say some of the rudest, craziest things you’ll ever want to hear,” he said. “That’s how you know that racism is definitely alive and kicking, unfortunately. And we need to make it not cool to be racist. So that’s what we’re doing by taking a broad stand against racism and injustice. We say leave your isms at the door when you come to Black Coffee.”
In a Jan. 14 video, Darnesha Weary sat in her empty coffee lounge and lashed out at Shoreline residents who seem oblivious to the racial divide both locally and on the national level. She challenged white members of the community to acknowledge those tensions and make efforts to combat them.
“We have been saying this for a year that we need you guys to catch up and catch up quickly,” Darnesha said. “Because your complacency is the reason why we’re in this situation today. Your complacency is the reason someone tried to blow this building up.”
Darnesha recounted tales of her daughter being harassed at school because of her race, customers referring to baristas as “colored,” and daily emails threatening staff and calling them terrorists. She mentioned one incident when she called police to remove an unruly customer who refused to leave.
The police never showed up, she said.
Darnesha said on Jan. 9 a Trump supporter parked his truck in the parking lot for several hours and refused to leave even after shop owners ordered him off the property. A tow company would not haul the vehicle away because the signs outside had yet to be switched to Black Coffee Northwest, according to Darnesha.
“All the systems of oppression need to be held accountable and abolished, and we need to start over,” she said. “There’s no working your way out of this. There’s not an equity plan, there’s not a new department. There’s not a new consultant you can hire to tell you the same thing Black people have been telling you for the past 400-plus years. There’s no quick-fix for this work. The only way to fix this is to be anti-racist.”
The Kings County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating both the Jan. 12 vandalism as well as the Sept. 30 arson at Black Coffee NW. Authorities did not release either of the police reports, citing the ongoing investigations.
Last week, Darnesha released video of the firebombing, which took place around 3:30 a.m. The surveillance footage shows what appears to be two teenage white boys lighting the crude firebomb devices and hurling them at the back of the building before running away.
There’s still a $10,000 award being offered for information in the arson investigation.
Black Coffee NW was set to make its debut on Oct. 1. But the attempt to burn the buisiness down pushed the grand opening back. Darnesha was defiant in the wake of that incident as well.
“We will be opening. This hate will not win here,” she told her followers on Facebook just three days after the attack.
Erwin said he also remains dedicated to the mission behind his business and won’t be intimidated by those who’ve sought to force him out.
“What Black Coffee Northwest brings is a sense of Blackness and unity, and we want people to see that it’s okay to be Black,” Erwin said. “It’s okay to stand for what’s right, it’s okay to be different. We don’t have to feel like we have to appeal to a certain group of people to be accepted. You can be accepted just the way you are at Black Coffee Northwest.”