As I sit to contemplate how the industry strengthens its own community, I think back to when I feel the support amongst us was at its peak. That moment for me was 2020. A moment when the industry as a whole was left in the dark. A moment when all we could do is face the reality that we had been living through very stressful, unhealthy, and anxiety-filled careers. A moment when all we could do was turn to our social media and help each other. 2020 became a time for us to reflect on what we’ve done. Platforms sprung up to raise money for the individual or the bar team. Educational opportunities opened up and were accessible to many more than it ever had been before. People from coast to coast connected and created online friendships and community. On top of all of that, it became a moment to put a magnifying glass on our industry culture. We started to really pay attention to the flaws that run through our careers: the inequality, the lack of diversity, the lack of equity and safety in so many spaces. We began to have conversations about these topics. Groups formed to battle these issues. Companies began to hand money and opportunities to those underrepresented in the industry. Organizations that had been doing work in these areas started to get their recognition and support.
As an industry, we began to see new faces in leadership positions. Be it education committees at conferences, be it faces of online magazine articles and covers, and more. So much work was being done that it forced many of us to start looking inward. We started to see what WE needed to continue a career in beverage. We needed a sense of a safe space away from discrimination in any form. We needed to work for those who cared about our quality of life in forms of compensation, in forms of consideration of our time, and in forms of protecting our mental health. We found that being human was ok and that we didn’t need to be giving all of our being to make a check or grow a brand. For some this meant to begin to work for themselves and for others, it meant rethinking how they will reenter the workforce.
These efforts we were making as a whole made me proud. So many were being recognized though long overdue! Seeing some systems changing and new systems being implemented was a great step in the right direction. It felt like we really were moving towards a brighter more sustainable future in the industry.
Many things have held true from that life-changing year! There are more and more conversations about safe spaces. We are looking at our relationship with alcohol more and asking ourselves, is it destructive? If so, why and how do we switch it up?! We’re looking for better ways to navigate work, networking spaces, and events where mental health is a priority. We’re being graceful with ourselves and others in many aspects. It has been refreshing to see the industry transform their language as they interact with those in the community. For example, removing tiki in spaces and replacing it with tropical. Companies and media outlets reaching out to organizations that can share information and opportunities to Black and Brown folks. Applications to industry gatherings/conferences asking for pronouns and disabilities. We see that organizers are trying to think more intentionally about their spaces.
While these efforts forward have been great, I can’t help to feel that we’ve still allowed our old ways to thrive once again. Especially in our workplaces. I see my friends and acquaintances being overworked again. I see businesses underpaying for opportunities or completely getting by with free labor. I am noticing less attention to diversity in positions of power. I notice the same politics being played to be recognized or to stay recognized. And I think to myself: what was all that work for? Why are we stepping back 5 more steps?
For the industry to truly contribute to the community we MUST commit to gruesome work. This work will be holding up a mirror of accountability to ourselves and our peers! Asking ourselves are we walking the same old, harmful, wasteful path? Or are we truly trying to make sustainable change that will lead to more open doors for those who have not paved this path before? Those who are in positions of power or have access to positions of power – when I say power I speak to those who can make decisions on who is recognized, or decisions of employee lives, or decisions on who are placed to lead spaces etc – we must ask ourselves how impactful we truly are. When putting together committees, choosing leaders, granting awards, creating a healthy workplace; ask yourself: are you making decisions that leave room for different walks of life to thrive in these areas? Saying yes to this question makes room for representation and an impact on the future of our industry. If we want true strength in our industry then we must want better for those who will be leading the industry tomorrow and beyond. Let’s make a sustainable, intentional impact together!
ABOUT KAPRI ROBINSON
Kapri Robinson is DC’s 2017 Cocktail Queen. While spending her time being a bartender, educator and event organizer, she is also the president & founder of Chocolate City’s Best (CCB). Kapri has gone on to win cocktail competitions and has been acknowledged on multiple media platforms. Kapri has been welcomed onto many television spotlights as well as being featured in industry media brands such as PUNCH and Eater. Kapri continues to lead seminars on hospitality and empowerment. In 2020, Kapri became an organizer of Back To Black which is an organization bringing together Black food and beverage creators to rally continued support of Black activism. While fulfilling many roles, Kapri is also the Co-Founder of Empowering The Diner. In 2021, Kapri was chosen to be one of Eaters New Guard. Kapri was graciously nominated as a top 10 bartender in the nation by the Tales of The Cocktail Spirited Awards in 2022. She is also one of twelve first ever Drink Masters on Netflix. She is a Co-Host of Soul Palate Podcast in which provides a platform to normalize Black and Brown palates. She is an educator of cocktail/spirits knowledge and strives to create opportunities for Black and Brown industry members.