Around The Blok. Vol. 2 - Michelle Johnson
Michelle is a creative working primarily in the specialty coffee industry. She also organizes coffee events for the Phoenix community. Outside of being an awesome human being, Michelle is also a competitive barista. Today, we are extremely thrilled to sit down with Michelle.
1. Tell us about yourself?
My name is Michelle, but a lot of folks in Phoenix call me 'Meesh'. (Not gonna lie, I prefer Michelle though haha!) I grew up outside of Washington, DC in Virginia and Maryland then moved to Phoenix four years ago. I work in the coffee industry, but sort of carved my own space within in this last year or so. A lot of the things I do aren't "traditional", so I don't work in a coffee shop or have any plans to open one of my own. I started a blog early last year called, The Chocolate Barista, writing a lot about issues of race in the coffee industry. That's opened me up to some pretty cool opportunities like speaking engagements and I won an award for it (See: 2016 Sprudgie Awards). TCB indirectly led me to my job now running marketing and communications for a company called, Barista Hustle. It was a blog started by a multi-world winning coffee champion and has a major focus on education and innovative coffee equipment that's affordable. They're based in Melbourne, Australia, so I'm moving to join them! (Literally on my way as we speak)
I'm one of those people who likes to be involved in a lot of things, and finds ways to combine them. Sometimes that's with people and bringing together different communities. It's also in my career too, being a creative and a coffee professional. I think there can always be crossover between the things you enjoy doing, you just have to think a bit outside the box to achieve that.
2. Why do you do what you do?
Wow, I've never been asked this before! I've realized that the work I do and my visibility doing that work is a lot bigger than me. I want to continue to be an inspiration for Black people, especially Black women, doing their thing in coffee, and even outside coffee. I try to be unapologetically myself in all aspects of my life, and it's dope to hear people tell me they feel like they can be too because of that. So, I gotta keep doing and creating! The people need it haha.
3. What benefit does art provide to society?
Art imitates life which also imitates art. Art is so powerful in ways I don't even think we've completely made sense of yet. (But will we ever?) For me, art's ability to capture thoughts and emotions at a given time is what speaks to me the most. Music is a prime example of this in my own life. I grew up living in poverty and moved around a lot. Most of my memories are of that, but I can attach music to places, feelings from that place. Music is a marker for me to place myself in the absence of stability. It's incredible. I live for it.
4. What’s your advice to others chasing their dreams?
A phrase a close friend and colleague says to me all the time that I've found applies to my entire life is, "You have to play chess, not checkers." The playing field isn't even for everyone and the reality is that some of us out here have to work harder and be more strategic about achieving our goals. We have to know the barriers that can and will come our way, and have a plan for working around or through them. Anything can truly be possible when you think about it that way!
5. What is your biggest inspiration and why?
Another question I've never been asked! Truly, seeing other Black women win drives the hell out of me. I love to see Black women kill it in whatever space they're in. I have a strong group of Black women and femmes in the coffee industry I look up to and lean on for support, and they're everything to me. I have a growing list of Black women in marketing that inspire me, like Uber's Bozoma Saint John. She's so unapologetically herself even though she's a C-suite, and at an SF tech bro company at that! That's a fucking QUEEN. My career kind of parallels her on a smaller scale, so I'm trying to channel that always.
6. When you think of home, what comes to mind?
People. Always people. I've moved around my entire life and "home" has held so many different meanings and situations. But no matter where I end up, people always make me feel the most at peace.
You can follow Michelle on INSTAGRAM.