The first Black-owned coffee shop in the heart of Shoreline was already a victim of racially motivated attacks, then someone tried to set fire to the building.
Black Coffee Northwest had long been a dream of an Edmonds couple, both of them community activists in their own right. So when a coffee house went up for sale last fall, they took the plunge in the middle of a pandemic.
As Western Washington Gets Real, that proved to be the least of their troubles.
It was an idea born of activism: open up a coffee shop in Shoreline and give it a name that is part mission statement, too.
“It brands us as to who we are.”
And who they are is a couple of activists from Edmonds, who happen to be married, Darnesha and Erwin Weary.
“It’s black coffee,” says Darnesha. “It’s Black-owned. It’s all about building the black community and entrepreneurship.”
“Our tag line is “grounded in excellence,” which means the things we want to do, we want to be excellent at,” said Erwin. “Also a play on words, grounded. But we’re also like we’re grounded. Our foundation is solid.”
Incredibly, they started their business during a pandemic.
“Yes, we did,” said Darnesha.
“Yep, that was interesting,” Erwin said, laughing. “That’s probably not what people would do businesswise. But I felt it was needed.”
They didn’t feel they could wait for the pandemic’s end.
“And I think it was a perfect time to do it because there were a lot of things going on in 2020 that needed a Black Coffee Northwest,” said Erwin.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers and the civil, sometimes violent unrest that followed pushed them to create a gathering place for people of color in the heart of a city that is mostly white.
“There needed to be like an understanding,” said Erwin. “Like, OK, we are Black people. We love our Black community. We love our community, period, and we need to bring people together.”
“We’re able to be the catalyst because we’ve done the ground work of bringing people together,” said Darnesha.
But before they could open, someone pelted the building they share with the Bethany Church on Aurora Avenue with Molotov cocktails last September, apparently trying to burn it down.
It was the most dramatic attempt to get them to leave the neighborhood.
“So yes, we did have an arson scare, which was terrible,” said Erwin. “But one good thing about that arson scare is that the community showed up and supported us in an amazing way.”
“Like you’re not going to silence us,” insisted Darnesha. “Like every time something happened, we used our social media platform to say, ‘We’re just trying to open a coffee shop, ya’ll. Why are you angry?’ "
“Not only that,” added Erwin, “we’re actually trying to help.”
Darnesha and Erwin say candidly, the merchandise, not coffee, is actually what is keeping Black Coffee Northwest afloat. That and the extraordinary support from the local community, so much so that they were able to deliver 500 turkeys at Thanksgiving to homeless encampments all across the area.
“I want to be remembered as a catalyst of change,” said Erwin. “I want to be a leader that helped make change happen.”
It is a change that is already happening one cup of coffee at a time.
The Wearys are leading a weekend of activism to honor Doctor Martin Luther King, including a vehicle rally in Shoreline on Monday, January 18.