Jonel Seon

BusinessWe See You

#AFROPUNKWESEEYOU: KEBA KONTE OF RED BAY COFFEE

December 18, 2019

In an era where the Black buying power is $1.2 trillion, it is imperative that as a community we create a pipeline of awareness, energy, and financial support of brands, cultural institutions, entrepreneurs, and businesses that are in alignment with our own liberation. One of the reasons that our theme this year is #AFROPUNKWESEEYOU is because we recognize that when we come together in fellowship, resistance, and celebration of our Blackness that we are a community. We are family — and we see each other.

AFROPUNK caught up with Keba Konte, the co-founder of Red Bay Coffee an Oakland, CA-based, impact-driven, Black-owned business that fosters social unity and economic empowerment through bringing beautiful coffee to the people.

What in your personal journey led you to create Red Bay Coffee, a brand/ movement that centralizes community building, African contributions, activism, and creativity?

Coming of age in the Bay Area, I was exposed to radical thought leaders and activists in the community and on college campuses. Equal parts of social justice and the arts shaped me from an early age. In 2006, I stepped my foot into the specialty coffee industry when I co-founded Guerilla Café and Gallery in Berkeley with my wife Rachel Konte and our business partner Andrea Ali. I fell in love with beautiful coffees from all over the world and decided to learn more about them with the mission of bringing them to the people in a way that felt more inclusive and diverse. Together with Rachel and our first Red Bay team, we created a platform to focus on community, job creation, and beautiful coffee.

We built an authentic brand that is focused on inclusive hiring practices such as women in leadership roles, previous incarcerated [people], and [individuals with] physical challenges. On our creative side, we like to come up with beautiful solutions and take design inspiration from around the world. I take pride in disrupting this industry by building a conscious brand that can manage to have delicious coffee, creating memorable experiences, and being fair in our relations.

Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Dr. Claude Anderson all believed that the key to community building is through entrepreneurship. Your firm isn’t just a business it’s a social movement. Talk to us about the reasoning behind the statement “vehicle for social unity and economic empowerment.”

Building healthier communities take government policy, citizen activism, and business. We all have a role to play to make things better. I have participated in community organizing to push for policy change which felt like an uphill battle and sat on the board of community-based, non-profit organizations that are beholden to the whims of the foundations. I chose entrepreneurship to have an impact because it gives me the freedom to be creative, write my own rules, and have direct control over my destiny. Of course, this too comes at a cost, the risks can be great and there are no guarantees. As an impact-driven entrepreneur, I have the ability to make hiring and purchasing choices that empower my community and foster social unity.

Red Bay Coffee hires and trains historically marginalized communities, why was this commitment important to you to include in your business model and should this practice be nationally implemented?

At Red Bay, we have found that when given the opportunity people from historically marginalized communities have a lot to contribute and appreciate the opportunity to prove themselves. We would love to see more companies all over the country increase impact hiring and believe we can inspire them to do so by being successful at it ourselves. Why is it important? It has been said that “we must be the change we want to see”. Although I don’t want to sugar coat it, it does come with challenges and it is important to work hand in hand with organizations that prepare the formerly incarcerated or young folks coming out of foster care for the work environment.

Red Bay Coffee’s mantra is “Coffee. Africa’s gift to the world.” That fact has been hidden from our community and is nonexistent in our textbooks, why was it important to amplify that legacy?

We often follow that mantra with ‘You’re Welcome’ which is a humorous way for us to remind people that coffee is part of our heritage and we need to reclaim it with pride. Let’s be real about how colonialism has profited from our resources. We are creating a new way of doing business that combines diversity, inclusion and high-quality products in our unique way to tell this story to our own community and the world.

What does WE SEE YOU mean to you?

To me, We See You means to appreciate the humanity in someone. To see beyond stereotypes and preconceived notions of outside appearances.

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