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Breweries serve racial justice conversations to their customers




With the national racial discourse growing stronger, Michigan’s craft brewing industry faces its own racial calculation, due to the racial demographics of its workforce and customer base and backlash. negative from a high-profile racial discrimination lawsuit involving Founders Brewing Co. last year.

According to data from the Brewers Association, 88.4% of craft brewery owners nationwide are white, 1% are black, and 2.4% are Hispanic. This disparity spills over to customers: 78.4% of craft beer drinkers are white, 4% are black, and 10.2% are Hispanic.

Many brewers are offering diversity, equity and inclusion training to their staff to address these disparities, but one organization plans to go further and bring discussions about racial justice and diversity to customers Michigan breweries.

Title Track is a Williamsburg-based non-profit organization that offers a variety of environmental and social justice programs, including racial justice training. Seth Bernard, Founder and Co-Executive Director of Title Track, used his extensive experience in environmental advocacy, social justice and community development to develop the Craft Libations for Collective Liberation (CL4CL) program.

Once it hits its fundraising goal of $ 25,000, the program plans to bring a series of talks on racial justice, alliance and anti-oppression to five Michigan breweries and their customers. . Discussions will be tailored to each brewery and the community it serves.

Joe Short, Founder and CEO of Short’s Brewing Company, sits on the Title Track Board of Directors. Faced with the news of George Floyd’s death and the growing Black Lives Matter movement this summer, Short reflected on actions he could take to fight racism and benefit communities. He realized he could use his position with Title Track and his connections in the brewing industry to educate Michigan residents about diversity and racial justice who might be less aware of these issues. Short reached out to Bernard and they decided it was a great time to showcase Title Track’s work to breweries in Michigan.

“We have a national discussion about race,” said Bernard. “I am very grateful to our friends at Short’s for their ideas and efforts to help raise awareness and involve their community in this work for justice.”

“A lot of breweries are establishments that are seen as pillars of their community and community leaders, and I think they’re a useful bridge or gateway to connect with more people,” says Short. “The great thing about the craft beer industry is that there is a brewery in almost every community, and every region of the state has a different audience.

“Historically, the public house was a special place in the community where people could connect, exchange ideas and have an open public discourse,” said Bernard. “In my experience, a lot of breweries are created by people who are very passionate about what they do, who are creative and imaginative and generally open-minded to the world.”

CL4CL has received donations from Short’s, Eastern Market Brewing Company, Black Rocks Brewery and Beards Brewery. Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild, says his organization supports the program and hopes it might help him uncover the barriers that keep people from feeling welcome at Michigan breweries.

“There is the real, obvious, practical economic reality: why would you want to exclude a customer?” Graham said, but he also sees the humanitarian need for inclusiveness. “Within our community there is a very strong belief that we care about each other, we care about each other, we care about the environment. I think that naturally fits our community.”

Michigan’s breweries strive to promote diversity, inclusion and racial justice. Many have organized staff training and developed diversity and inclusion policies. Thirty-three Michigan breweries participated in the Black is Beautiful Beer Project this summer, in which they brewed a limited edition beer and donated 100% of the proceeds to “local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged. ”

But there is still work to be done. Graci Harkema, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Owner of Graci LLC, says brewers need to support and collaborate with diverse and under-represented groups to increase diversity, and they need to ensure their marketing is inclusive and shows a plus wide range of faces and backgrounds.

Last year, Harkema resigned as director of diversity and inclusion at Founders Brewing Co. and spoke out publicly about the brewery’s handling of the racial discrimination lawsuit.

“Breweries have a responsibility to broaden their targets. Breweries have done a great job traditionally targeting white, young and middle-aged men with beards,” she said. “People are going to be drawn to what they see.”

CL4CL is more than a one-off discussion and will provide participants with take-home documents. CL4CL will also offer staff training including significant steps to continue advocating for racial justice.

“It is important for clients and trainees to know that the work of diversity, equity and inclusion never stops,” Harkema said. “There needs to be monitoring, accountability, policies and practices in place to ensure that fair standards are implemented and that inclusiveness continues to increase.”

Short acknowledges that having these talks in some predominantly white communities, including his own in northern Michigan, will be an uphill battle. But he wants to organize a community conversation with his clients.

“This is where we chose to live,” Short said. “And we chose this specifically because we wanted our business to have a positive impact in our community.”

“You don’t have to be black, a minority or a person of color to know racism exists,” Harkema said. “When we come forward to support people with different diseases, we don’t have to have cancer to know the effects of cancer and to be able to come forward and support people who have cancer.

Bernard says it’s time for people to come together and do healing work and that CL4CL is “a place where people can start where they are, wherever they are”.

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