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Dedicated to Making Difference

How Whittier Cafe Supports, Educates, and Activates Community

Walking through the Whittier neighborhood you'll notice a sign stating “We are fighting two diseases - COVID and racism” amongst a bed of flowers in Whittier Cafe’s sign garden.  Signs like these provide a constant reminder, messages that need to be at the forefront of our minds for change and awareness to occur.  To know about this community-centered cafe is to know activism, connection, and education.  As for how Whittier Cafe all began, this thriving activist hub started with founder Millete Birhandemaskel's desire to educate people on the origins of coffee.

Originally from Ethiopia, Birhanemaskel was inspired to share the importance of Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, which are paramount to the Ethiopian culture.  The ancient region Kaffa of Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, after all.  These coffee ceremonies are fundamental to Ethiopian families and are a tradition shared with family and friends, sometimes multiple times a day.  Before COVID restrictions, they held traditional coffee ceremonies every Sunday bringing together people of all kinds.  The ceremonies themselves are about an hour-long, so you can imagine how much connection and conversation naturally happens in that amount of time.    

Initiating connection began with coffee as the focal point, but ultimately it organically grew far beyond anything Birhanemaskel could ever have predicted.  During the summer of 2015, teenager, Jessie Hernandez was killed by Denver police, which sparked a group of people wanting a place to mourn what had happened together.  When Birhanemaskel discovered that this group had been officially asked not to meet at another local coffee shop in the area, she reached out to the organizers to offer up Whittier Cafe as a space to come together.  The cafe quickly became a place to express, organize, and stand for something more than just a quick coffee, a community dedicated to making a difference.

Growing up in a family of activists, Birhanemaskel has always believed in supporting causes, organizations, and the community. In this current climate, every action counts, and she is committed to doing everything she can to support the black community in these times of need for resources and connection. She sees that everyone has their way of showing up and that there are so many beautiful ways to play your part for the greater good.  Whittier Cafe is particularly fond of Endless Grind Coffee Shop in Aurora, and Tea Lee’s and Akente Express in Five Points.  Every Sunday, they’ve also been hosting black-owned food trucks such as The Ethiopian Food Truck. 

In these unprecedented times, let us all borrow a page from Birhanemaskel’s book.   May we choose to reach out to those in need and do whatever we can to make a difference in the lives of others.  Whether we share resources, support black businesses, protest, or use our voice, may we show our support and create change together.