We had an amazing time with Ruben from the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce today at a beloved coffee shop in his community in Milwaukee called “Coffee Makes You Black”.
We almost fell out of our chairs when he told us over the phone where he wanted to meet, uncomfortable to ask if that was a real place or a joke. Well, it is indeed a real place, and they serve not only great coffee, but also great food.
Ruben is a man filled with passion, vision and a great sense of humor. He sat down across from us with a gleam in his eye, sharing almost right off the bat that he does not have a big problem with segregation, a piece of information that shocked us. In an article he was recently quoted saying, “Black Americans should be the largest employer of other black Americans.” While this sentiment could seem jarring, it makes a lot of sense when you look at the reality of today’s situation and the mindset that outsiders should come in and “save” these struggling communities.
In short, Ruben is not a fan of well-intentioned efforts to help families in black neighborhoods by throwing rent subsidies, utility assistance or food at the problem.
He believes that these efforts though noble, have been virtually fruitless because it has done nothing to change the situation, to empower these communities, and has done everything to make them more and more reliant. He spoke honestly and bluntly about his personal experience as a person of color working in corporate America, and didn’t hold back on the issues of poverty, crime and education that he and his neighbors face every single day.
Our time with Ruben also gave us some much-needed insight into the internal struggle within the African American / Black community, something we’d never been privy to learn about or discuss before. The first surprising bit of information we got was that there is a Black Chamber of Commerce in the city, and an African American Chamber of Commerce, which to our simple minds seemed a little redundant. Little did we know that we were about to get a crash course in the internal struggle raging within the world of color that Ruben believes is one of the biggest drivers holding back black business owners and entrepreneurs today.
I’d never considered it before, but there are definite factions within the African American and Black Communities that have been evident even as far back as the civil rights movement, often working against each other due to their ideological differences. Dave and I don’t feel even close to expounding on these differences, but have a deep desire to learn and understand more.
Like many things we are learning along the way, this too was complex and much more than you could cover in one sitting over coffee, but at least we got to hear Ruben’s thoughts. He has a passion to see people in his community step unhindered into a places of leadership as creative and social entrepreneurs, driving solutions that would transform neighborhoods and lift people out of poverty and into a place of ownership and responsibility.
We were so honored to get to sit with Ruben and learn from him in the spectacular surroundings of Coffee Makes You Black.
And on that note, he did give us the back story on the name of the institution. He said when he was little, kids would ask their parents if they could have a sip of their coffee. Their parents would reply, you don’t want coffee, it makes you black. And thus the saying was born.
We are grateful for Ruben’s time, for his patience with our ignorance, and his kindness to share his story with us. We cannot wait to see how this man will shape the future of Milwaukee for generations to come.