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Samara Rivers

& the Black Bourbon Society

Within the spirit industry, the faces of African Americans tend to be scarce and under-represented outside of sports and entertainment. California native Samara Rivers has set out to change the narrative and show million dollar brands that she, and those that look like her, deserve a seat at the bar as much as anyone else.

As an event planner and avid drinker, Rivers and a former partner enjoyed planning upscale gatherings showcasing different spirits. In observing the attendees, she soon realized that none of these events were targeted toward the African American demographic.

“I felt myself raising the red flag saying, ‘Hey, we’re here too and would love to participate.’ I wanted to prove there was this niche audience of African Americans who drink premium spirits,” says Rivers.

In 2016, Rivers established Black Bourbon Society (aka BBS), a membership organization that caters to those within the minority population who have a love for the Kentucky-born drink and wish to appreciate it in grand style. The members are not bonafide celebrities inking an endorsement deal or young college students looking to snap a pic for ‘the gram’, but mature professionals who want to enjoy exclusive events while learning about premium brands and mingle with like-minded people. Rivers and her team of ambassadors have been successful in fostering relationships with brands like Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Brown Forman, Four Roses, and countless others to create sponsored events nationwide.

“I started out in the Bay Area and the demand was very high, so we branched out and did the same thing in Atlanta,” she shares. “It became hard to manage two separate groups, so I created a private Facebook page and it exploded.” The private group grew from 50 to 60 people to more than 19,000, to date.

Since the invasion of the Covid-19 pandemic, BBS has adopted a new motto: “Keeping spirits high with spirits.” The Executive Bourbon Steward and Tasting Expert deemed by Stave and Thief Society has forged ahead by conducting business slightly different these days. Like most large gatherings, they are now live virtual events with the audience via Instagram and Facebook showcasing drink recipes, happy hours, and conversations.

“Whiskey Weekly” is presented each Wednesday, featuring master distillers and brand owners participating in a getting-to-know-you session. Then Rivers and her husband, Armond Davis, host a bi-weekly podcast entitled, “Bonded in Bourbon,” where they review whiskey from a his and hers perspective.

A large aspect of BBS is to champion diversity and inclusion where it has been absent for decades. After years of advocating (for D&I), Rivers is currently working to obtain her Diversity and Inclusion certification from Cornell University.

“BBS is the bridge to help facilitate education opportunities, experiences, and networking opportunities with the membership. But the goal is to work with the brands to train and teach them on how to genuinely engage niche audiences, specifically people of color,” Rivers explains.

Recently Rivers spearheaded a nonprofit, Diversity Distilled, to dive deeper into the corporate structures of the whiskey brands in reference to hiring, recruiting, and promoting diverse talent within their organizations. Representation is imperative in marketing, and usually the best way to address a deficiency is from the inside, she says.

For more information, please visit BlackBourbonSociety.com and IG: @BlackBourbonsociety.

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