Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity Honors Black Coffee Leaders at “The First Sip” Event


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Photos by James Washington courtesy of the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity

On Saturday, April 13th, the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE) hosted “The First Sip” in Chicago during the 2024 Specialty Coffee Expro. The event “gathered like-minded professionals and enthusiasts and was a platform to honor significant contributors to diversity and inclusion in the coffee industry,” according to a press release from CCRE. 

The inaugural event served as a platform to present three new awards, “each honoring Black trailblazers in coffee,” and raised over $30,000 for future CCRE initiatives. The fundraiser will support the organization’s ongoing efforts to sponsor scholarships and internships, as well as launch its new podcast, “Brewing in Equity.”  

Why It Matters: “The First Sip” was a chance to build community and encourage discussions regarding diversity and inclusion within the coffee industry. The event’s highlight was the presentation of the new slate of awards: the Local Heroes Award, the Innovators Award, and the Nicaud Award. 

The Local Heroes Award was given to Greg Stivers of Stivers Coffee in Chicago, who has been roasting coffee since 1985. 

“As a true pioneer in the industry, he has consistently pushed boundaries and set new standards,” the CCRE wrote. “He has earned his peers’ admiration and respect and fostered a significant business relationship with Chicago French Press, a Black woman-owned coffee company. This showcases his commitment to supporting diverse local businesses and enriching the community.” 

Renata Henderson and Bartholomew Jones of Cxffeeblack in Memphis won the Innovators Award. Cxffeeblack was recently named the 2024 Notable Roaster by Sprudge and was recognized for its Barista Exchange Program.

“The program is a testament to a vision and commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion within the coffee industry, setting a new standard for collaboration and mutual learning,” the CCRE wrote. 

Michelle Johnson, founder of Ghost Town Oats, received the Rose Nicaud Award for her overall contributions and impact on the industry. Johnson has also won the 2016 Outstanding Achievement In The Field of Excellence award from Sprudge, and Ghost Town produced 1,000,000 cartons of oat milk within its first year.  

“From co-founding her own Oat Milk brand, Ghosttown Oats, to penning an open letter addressing the systemic challenges Black baristas face,” CCRE wrote, “her efforts have sparked meaningful dialogue and led to positive changes in the coffee industry.” 

The Full Extraction: The night was a chance to honor successes and achievements, but CCRE founder Phyllis Johnson also looked to the future. “While we celebrate tonight’s success, our focus remains steadfast on the challenges that lie ahead,” said Johnson. “This event is just the beginning of our renewed efforts to pave a more inclusive path in the coffee industry.” 

What’s More: Even if you couldn’t be at the event, you can still contribute to the CCRE’s sustained future. “We invite everyone to join us in this mission by supporting our initiatives through donations at,” said Johnson. Your contributions will help us continue to make a meaningful impact.” You can also learn more about the CCRE by visiting their website.  

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Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley Rodriguez is the managing editor at Fresh Cup. She served as the online editor of Barista Magazine from 2016-2019 and is an award-winning beer writer and podcaster. She hosts a podcast called Boss Barista and writes an accompanying newsletter about coffee and service work.

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