After a white barista chastised her for handing out newsletters at a South Side coffee shop last month, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins plans to return to the cafe to convene a forum on race relations.
Managers at the Blackeye Roasting coffee shop fired the barista, who has not been named, for inappropriately confronting Jenkins and making others feel unsafe, they said.
Jenkins, who is black and transgender, said she wants to use the opportunity to discuss racial tension that's motivating undue suspicion of people of color around the country in public settings, including a viral video showing two black men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks last April.
"We are not over racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia in this community by any stretch of the imagination," said Jenkins. "I want to be on the forefront of us as a community dealing with these issues head on."
On Dec. 18, Jenkins and two staff members stopped into Blackeye, at 3740 Chicago Av. S., while delivering a year-end newsletter to businesses in her ward. Jenkins said she recognized several friends and constituents in the coffee shop, and began talking to them and handing out the newsletters.
The barista then scolded Jenkins for failing to ask permission to hand out literature, Jenkins said.
"I agreed with him," said Jenkins. "I'm like, 'You know what, you're right, I should have let you know, I apologize, it won't happen again.' And he felt compelled to continually chastise me and tell me protocols for entering into an establishment and handing out information."
Jenkins and her staff members left. Keno Evol, a customer at Blackeye, approached the barista and complained about his treatment of a City Council member. "He said, 'Well I was suspicious,' " recalled Evol in an interview. " 'The risk is, you know, she could have been a Nazi.' "
Evol, a poet and executive director of Black Table Arts, said the conversation is telling of the dissonance occurring in the gentrifying south Minneapolis neighborhood. "If you were culturally competent or community competent, you would know it's ridiculous to equate a City Council member — who happens to be the first black, trans woman in the country to serve in city government — to a Nazi," he said.
Evol and several others wrote an open letter to Blackeye urging its owners to take steps to better understand the diverse community it serves and "to call into question the first response of 'suspicion' to black customers passing out literature."
In a Facebook post, managers for Blackeye responded: "A new employee of ours interacted with this city council member inappropriately, making comments and creating a situation that created an unsafe environment for customers, members of the community and other staff. A customer of ours of several years spoke up about it and we as owners were made aware about an hour after the event took place. The employee in question was fired effective immediately."
Dante DeSeranno, managing partner for Blackeye, declined an interview. In an e-mail, he said the owners have apologized to Jenkins and "begun the discussion around community healing with her and with our community in mind."
Jenkins, a poet who frequently writes about race, was elected to the council in 2017. Being the first transgender black woman to hold the office has brought her national attention.
She will host the forum at Blackeye on Jan. 22, the National Day for Race and Healing.
"My intention is not for people to boycott Blackeye coffee and they end up going out of business," she said. "My intent is to help them and the broader community understand each other's roles and how to be better community members."
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036