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This Shoreline coffee shop provides a safe space for Black youth

caption: Darnesha Weary, co-owner of Black Coffee Northwest in Shoreline, WA, poses for a portrait, July 1, 2021.
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Darnesha Weary, co-owner of Black Coffee Northwest in Shoreline, WA, poses for a portrait, July 1, 2021.
KUOW Photo/ Juan Pablo Chiquiza

When Darnesha Weary’s family moved to Shoreline in the late '90s, there weren’t many Black families in the predominantly white city. There weren’t many Black-owned businesses, either.

Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, Weary and her husband opened a coffee shop, one with a purpose.

Black Coffee Northwest is often busy, even when the shop is closed for the day. On a recent Thursday afternoon, owner Darnesha Weary greets teenagers getting dropped off. They’re here for the start of step team practice.

Inside the coffee shop, the couch, tables and chairs have been pushed aside to make room for the step team. Soon the room will be filled with about a dozen young people stomping, clapping and moving in rhythm.

This is one of the visions Weary had in mind when she and husband Erwin opened Black Coffee Northwest last October. She says they wanted a place that served great coffee and more.

“I love to come in here and the music’s up,” Weary said. “It’s lively, the youth that are here, they’re able to be themselves, they’re able to be loud, or if they just want to plug in their phones and sit in a corner they’re not bothered, like just to come in and feel safe, and feel seen. That’s what we wanted.”

It’s the kind of space she wished she had when she was growing up. Weary was born in South Seattle, but her family moved up north when she was young.

“I came out here and suddenly became the only brown person in every space,“ she said. “It was really hard for me in school, it was hard for me in the community. I could never find something for me.”

So while home was in the north end, their social life was always in South Seattle.

“My mom would always take us to the south end … and participate in activities there because she wanted to make sure that we were around people that look like us.”

Shoreline’s demographic has changed over the years. Today, Black people make up more than 6% of the city’s population, up from just under 3% in 2000.

Weary’s journey to create that safe space was hard and traumatic. First, the pandemic prohibited indoor gathering. But they used their parking lot for some events. Then there was an arson attempt a month before opening day. And earlier this year, the coffee shop closed for a couple of days after vandals defaced the building with swastikas and email threats were sent to the cafe. In response, the Wearys held multiple online meetings with the community talking about their vision.

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While some people came around, Weary recalled there was some push back.

“So they were like, ’That’s racist, and are white people welcome here?’” Weary said. “And I’m like, 'everyone is welcome, but our priority here is serving the Black community.'”

caption: Mikayla Weary (front) leads the step team at Black Coffee Northwest.
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Mikayla Weary (front) leads the step team at Black Coffee Northwest.
KUOW Photo/ Juan Pablo Chiquiza

One way Weary builds community is through step team, which had been part of Weary’s youth. With the state’s Covid restrictions lifted, it’s one of the classes offered at Black Coffee Northwest. Weary’s daughter Mikayla leads students through the steps. Some of the moms sit nearby.

“We’re just happy things are opening back up and we’re just happy to be re-engaging with community,” Pavielle Montes said, whose daughter takes part in activities at Black Coffee Northwest.

Montes says having a place like Black Coffee Northwest is important to her daughter, especially after more than a year of isolation.

“This is a way for her to connect with other people, other young Black women that are empowering her.”

Black Coffee Northwest also provides barista training and internships. Bethany Haystad says her niece just completed a junior internship this past spring.

“She would come home and she would be so excited to talk about it,” Haystad said. “They got a lot of other Black community leaders involved and they got to ask questions, like how do you come up with an idea for a business and how do you implement social justice into your business practices and why that’s so important. What’s so cool here is that they let the youth lead a lot of things.”

There are more programs and activities planned at the coffee shop, like yoga. And come fall, Weary is thinking about beefing up their Wi-Fi and starting tutoring sessions for kids. It’s all part of a plan to nurture the next generation of leaders.

“Our CEOs, our next people in city council, in decision making capacity — it’s our time right now to start giving those skills and opportunities,” Weary said. “I always tell them I want you to be better than me. I’m training you to take my job.”

And she hopes they’ll use these skills and life lessons on their journey, wherever that takes them.

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