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Rooted in Liberation
caption: From left, Erwin Weary Sr., Darnesha Weary and Mikayla Weary stand for a portrait on Thursday, October 15, 2020, outside of their new business, Black Coffee Northwest, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
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From left, Erwin Weary Sr., Darnesha Weary and Mikayla Weary stand for a portrait on Thursday, October 15, 2020, outside of their new business, Black Coffee Northwest, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Black Coffee Northwest: You’re not ‘gonna run me out of my neighborhood’

Read a transcript of this radio story transcript in a format that is accessible to D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

For generations, many Black Americans have asked themselves, “Should I stay or should I go?”

From the Great Migration to writers and activists like James Baldwin and Josephine Baker who sought refuge in Paris, there has always been a discord between Blackness and U.S. nationhood.

North American soil was stolen from Indigenous people, after all, and the U.S was built off Black bodies for wealth and many Black Americans wondered if they could call this land of genocide home.

For the Weary family, home has always been north of Seattle. But not long ago, this question of home, and two traumatizing events, nearly moved them out of Seattle.

Darnesha Weary, the matriarch, kept wondering how to make this region, one of the whitest urban hubs in the U.S., home for her and her family. The answer came to her at 2 a.m. one morning.

caption: The sun sets behind Black Coffee Northwest on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
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The sun sets behind Black Coffee Northwest on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

“I woke up my husband, I said, ‘Guess what babe? Guess what? We're going to own a business. It's going to be a coffee shop!"

Not just any coffee shop. One of the Blackest coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest.

“I just kept speaking it, like, ‘We need a space,’” Weary said. “I kept telling the community, like, ‘Once we get a space, it’s on and crackin’.’”

They named it Black Coffee Northwest.

On the day of its soft opening, the line was around the corner and inside.

“We weren’t expecting this many people to show up,” said Erwin Weary, Darnesha's husband. “It was definitely more than a soft opening, and we’re running out of everything.”

That’s because this isn’t just about coffee.

Customers came all the way from Walla Walla, Washington, three hours away. “Congratulations on the business,” they said. “We're just really happy for you guys. And we wish you guys the best.”

The customers had traveled here because the space was about Blackness. The coffee is sourced from an Ethiopian roaster based in Renton. The young folks working here are all Black kids from the community.

“We definitely want people to realize that we are here,” Erwin said. “Black people represent a big part of America. And we can do a lot of amazing things.”

caption: President of Black Coffee Northwest, Mikayla Weary stands for a portrait on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
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President of Black Coffee Northwest, Mikayla Weary stands for a portrait on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Mikayla Weary, 17, the Weary's daughter, is the coffee shop's president.

“Just seeing it all come together it's just unreal,” Mikayla said. “Like it's a functioning coffee shop. Like we're here. So it's crazy.”

Two years ago, Mikayla and her brother Erwin were approached by a woman with a bat and called the N-word for the first time. It was the first time their mom Darnesha felt unsafe in their neighborhood.

“That was the first time I actually felt like my kid could have been killed,” she said.

She realized she felt disconnected from this place she called home. And that a lot of the Black women she knew had left.

So Darnesha went searching for a place where the soil would feel familiar.

caption: The interior of Black Coffee Northwest is reflected in the front entrance of the business on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
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The interior of Black Coffee Northwest is reflected in the front entrance of the business on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

“I told all my friends, ‘We're out of here.’ I can't stand being here,” she said. “We're going to Atlanta, Texas, Louisiana, anywhere there are Black people. I don't care.”

“I almost made Erwin put an offer on a house there,” Darnesha said. “But something kept telling me, like I grew up here."

One night it clicked. They would stay put.

“Why should I have to leave?" Darnesha wondered. "Like, you're gonna run me out of my neighborhood?!”

She and Erwin decided to work together as a family and build the community they wanted.

“I started building the community and finding people, finding allies, finding accomplices, finding people that were our people, and we just start welcoming everyone with open arms and just build again,” she said. “It wasn't there. So we created it.”

That drive for community morphed into Black Coffee Northwest.

But just before they were to open on October 1, an arson.

Someone tried to break in, but weren't able to. They threw bricks and explosives at the new coffee shop. They put plants and debris in the gas line and lit it on fire, trying to blow the place up. But they failed; the interior was intact.

And so were the Wearys, who refused to step away from their dream.

caption: A chalk drawing is shown on the ground outside of Black Coffee Northwest on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
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A chalk drawing is shown on the ground outside of Black Coffee Northwest on Thursday, October 15, 2020, along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

“You will come here for coffee, and you will leave with something different,” Darnesha said.

“Our questions of the day are not going to be what's your favorite TV show? It's going to be how are you being anti-racist today? … Did you vote? Are you registered? We're gonna have those conversations here.

“And we have a lot of our white community learning and showing up. This is going to be the place that people are going to change.”

You’d think after that this family would be on the next plane. But for the Wearys their resistance is in the opening of the coffee shop doors. It’s in their laughter, their joy. It’s their flag flying high in Shoreline that says this is home.