James Joyce III | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

It’s time. Yes, it’s about damn time. 

From the region that gave birth to the national unrest following the controversial Rodney King trial nearly 30 years ago, and from this great nation that was built on the backs of my damn ancestors: It. Is. Got. Damn. Time! 

For the past eight years, I have served our community working in the district leadership for our State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. And four years ago, following the law enforcement killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I launched an initiative called Coffee with a Black Guy, a facilitated community conversation about race and perspective. Simply put: coffee. Connection. Conversation. 

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I’ve seen Coffee with a Black Guy (CWABG) as sort of an entry point to non-black people’s continuum of racial understanding. The platform that my team and I have worked to build over the past four years is ready-made for this moment that we find ourselves in now. 

CWABG offers a simple roadmap that could move us beyond this mass awakening to the very raw and dangerous realities of the racial injustices that plague our land. That blueprint is: Build community. Get involved. And forge meaningful relationships. 

There is an urgency to this moment that we must seize to advance the movement. 

And, I’ll admit, over the past few weeks, I have been quite “blackishly” skeptical of the newfound incredulousness of our condition, the black American condition. I mean, our culture is pop culture, and all you have to do is listen ​— ​throw a dart at a hip-hop song, and the lyrics provide a snapshot into our reality. 

“World peace, niggas talk about ‘Don’t shoot!’ / Tell that to police / Scared, ain’t none of them prepared, I could see” ​— ​“Who R U?” by Anderson .Paak on his 2018 album titled Oxnard

“Elvis was a hero to most (x3) / but he never meant shit to me, you see / Straight up / racist that sucker was, simple and plain / Mother fuck him and John Wayne / ’Cause I’m black and I’m proud / I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped / Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps / Sample a look back, you look and find / nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check / ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ was a number-one jam / Damn if I say it, you can slap me right here.” —“Fight the Power” from our brother Chuck D of Public Enemy’s 1988 album titled It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. 

Nevertheless, we persist. 

These two specially curated glimpses into the black American experience were penned and introduced to the world 30 years apart,  but the only things that have changed about that experience are the technological advances those artists ​— ​with ties to Ventura County ​— ​used to produce their art. 

It’s time, but how do we move forward to build community, get involved, and forge meaningful relationships? In the urgency of now, this path forward is imbued with all the pain and pumblings of my ancestors, all the snide remarks unchecked, and all the tears wept. These life experiences add up to be useful in this moment. Turning individual and collective pain into community gain. Turning pain into gain ​— ​we’re still doing it. 

The economic prowess of our nation in global markets, the reason we can tout California as having the fifth-largest economy in the world, the reason that we are America has been built on the backs of our enslaved ancestors ​— ​need I remind you, for free! 

And all we, black people, descendants of those who were enslaved, have received in return was an apology from Congress, “on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.” — House Resolution 194, passed by the 110th Congress, July 29, 2008. 

See, this is why ethnic studies curricula are important. 

So, both finally and unfortunately, welcome. Welcome to your arc of better racial understanding. Coffee with a Black Guy is ready. You can explore some of the conversations that we have been having locally at the CWABG YouTube channel and at our website, cwabg.com

These conversations follow no script, just town hall style. As we ease back into gathering in person, urge organizations that you are affiliated with to have the tough conversations about race, diversity, inclusion, privilege, and perspective. That is genuine community building. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do not profess to have all the answers. Hell, I do not profess to have any answers. Nor do I speak for or from the experience of all black people; if you haven’t figured it out by now, we are not a monolith. 

But I believe that if we do not at least start the conversation, we are doomed from there on. Please be aware that leaning on your black friend(s) can be traumatic and tiring and can stretch the perimeters of a friendship. I do not make this offering out of obligation, but out of gratitude for the experiences and the ability to view and share them as teachable moments. 

Black folks, those of us who are willing, let’s help them out. Hopefully for the benefit of us all. So host a CWABG conversation within your network or community, the way that the Vista del Monte retirement community did last April. Or go back and watch some of the previous community conversations and really listen to learn. From there, that may lead to reading suggestions (S.B. Public Library has compiled an anti-racist reading list), more engaging conversations among a smaller group of willing friends or even a dinner invitation, who knows. 

My mother always said that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. Well, the same goes for you in our current climate. 

Engage. Let’s build genuine community. Let’s do better. Let’s be better.  

If not only for yourselves, put in the work now for future generations. 

My black is beautiful and so are we ​— ​community, I share this message in love. —Ashé

James Joyce III currently serves as District Director for State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and founder of Coffee with a Black Guy LLC. He based this article on a speech he delivered on June 4, 2020, at an NAACP solidarity rally honoring George Floyd at the Ventura Government Center. See cwabg.com (includes links to social media) or linkedin.com/in/james-joyce-iii-00157239/.


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