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A Path Forward

June 10, 2020

Dear Community,

We owe you more.

We recently made a statement to share our support of Black Lives Matter and the protesters who are demanding systemic change with policing, racism and anti-Blackness. We entered this space quickly last week in an attempt to use our platform to amplify the urgency of this moment. But in doing so, we realize we failed to do the work needed to lend credibility to our call of solidarity. We, like so many of our white peers, showed up to the moment but not to the movement. And we failed to offer transparency into our most egregious example of privilege: our delay in completing our name change. 

We deeply apologize for the pain and frustration our failings have caused for our staff, customers, and the public, especially our BIPOC community members who have had to take up the burden of calling us in to the work of true accountability.

In the last week, we have slowed down to listen and learn from the voices that matter most right now: those of the BIPOC community. We are taking the messages and callouts of this movement to heart, recognizing that as a white-owned business that still retains an appropriated Indigenous name, any change we are claiming to support must start here. As one of the owners of this business, it must start with me, and I have a lot of work to do to ensure my stated solidarity is echoed in both my actions and those of this company. Thankfully, there are good people around me–– leaders within our company, educators and online resources––people who’ve been working tirelessly for years, modeling what antiracism can look like. 

I also recognize the intersectional nature of the work that must be done, and in the process of evaluating how we have failed our BIPOC employees, peers, and members of the public, I am also recognizing my complicity in perpetuating other forms of bias embedded in a white supremacist society. Most immediately, this is a focus on gender bias in the workplace.

I want to acknowledge the work of those that have most directly impacted and educated me around issues of racism and gender and have spoken out to challenge our company culture:

  • First and foremost, Shizue Roche Adachi – our Brand and Marketing Manager, for demonstrating on all levels what allyship looks like, for having patience with and challenging my ignorance rooted in white privilege, and for leading our company through the name change process.
  • Lester Randall – Chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, who met our apology with an offering of a continued relationship and shared, not only with our company but with our entire local community, the history of the Kickapoo Nation and the implications of our complicity in its erasure. We are extraordinarily humbled by his generosity and leadership.
  • David Pacheco - Chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, who hosted us in Oklahoma and shared stories of his People and the work being done to support their community. We are honored by the trust and guidance he extended to a company that did not deserve his contributions.
  • Jenny Flinders – Research Project Manager with the Center for Public Partnerships and Research at the University of Kansas, who we met through Chairman Randall and who helped to elucidate how our commitment to change the name must be met with a commitment to steward our community to a deeper understanding of the complex and often untrue stories we tell ourselves about the place we call home.
  • Camila Coddou – of Barista Behind the Bar for leading an internal dialogue towards inclusivity in the workplace, initiated and directed by Shizue this past winter. We are grateful to Camila for her willingness to continue this work with us.
  • Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, Ph.D – who led and prepared our Female-identifying Employee Focus Group Report and Gender Equity Training this past fall, at the direction and leadership of Jamie Lamonde, our Director of Marketing.
  • Audrey Canyon – who has lent her voice to our work, and continues to call us in, call us out and hold us accountable after our acknowledgement of appropriation and the decision to change our name. That was never your burden to bear, and we apologize for how we have failed you.
  • Meghan-Annette Reida – barista and former Kickapoo Coffee cafe employee, for organizing our Coffeewomxn Unite! event in Milwaukee and offering us the opportunity to contribute to this national conversation at a local level.

      I have also benefited immensely from the work of Dr. Adrienne Keene, Layla F. Saad, and Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika and John Biewen, among other public figures and scholars engaged in this critical work.

      I have just started to scratch the surface and am committing to the life-long journey of anti-racism and gender equity, and applying these learnings to how we do business and practice allyship with BIPOC and LGBTQA+ communities. I know that I will continue to fail and fall short, but it is my responsibility to lean in so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past.

      To that point, I want to address our name change. 

      Tomorrow we will be releasing our new name and moving as fast as our team can in changing our online and social media presence, removing the signs from our three cafes and fast tracking all the small steps required of this rebrand process that has taken too long. To honor the capacity of our production and marketing staff and recognizing the real limitations we have in rebranded assets and packaging being ready for distribution to our wholesale customers, we will see the rebrand completed by August 3rd. Until then, we are committing to stop appropriating the Kickapoo name everywhere we possibly can.  There will inevitably be hiccups and logistical challenges, and we thank you for supporting our team as they navigate the difficult situation Caleb and I have put them in.

      To provide full context for this action: The process of our name change is a credit to the many of the above sources and all the Indigenous and allied activists that are raising awareness on issues of cultural appropriation. We had a general internal awareness of the tension of using the Kickapoo name that grew slowly, but it wasn’t until Shizue internally challenged us and encouraged a deeper inquiry that we really allowed the hard questions to sink in. This questioning led us to the truth that our decision 15 years ago to take on the Kickapoo name, albeit our association at the time was with the local river, was a direct act of appropriation. Many people might now first encounter the word Kickapoo as a coffee brand, which erases the Kickapoo people from our collective narrative. And this erasure perpetuates all the other acts of genocide against Indigenous people over the past five centuries.

      All that I personally share and all that we as a company share in this space about racism, Black Lives Matter and solidarity is laced with hypocrisy, as we’ve rightly been criticized for. We have remained a company that is appropriating the name of the Kickapoo Nation. There are many reasons that have piled up for why we have taken so long to change our name, but there are no excuses. We as owners, too comfortable within our privilege, have not embraced and honored this project with the expediency it deserves. I have again apologized to the Kickapoo Nation, and I offer you my sincere regrets for dragging this on too long. 

      When we made the final decision to change the name early last year, we shared our decision publicly after initiating conversations with the three federally recognized tribes of the Kickapoo Nation. At that time, we hadn’t even begun thinking about a new name, and we hadn’t fully appreciated the magnitude of work we were undertaking. But this winter, it became apparent that our pace for the rebrand was falling behind. Again, blame for this falls squarely on Caleb’s and my shoulders as we deliberated too long on design choices and did not provide clarity in leadership to move things along quickly. We were finally pushing for an April launch of this year, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This dramatically slowed production times and our team’s capacity for a period, and we made the tough decision to change the name by August 3rd.

      As soon as we recognized the stagnation of our process, we should have fully decoupled our name change from our larger rebrand. But we didn’t. We made a professional choice, instead of a human decision in line with our values. Once again we would like to commit to righting this wrong, starting with taking action tomorrow to do everything we can to stop perpetuating our use of the Kickapoo name.

      We look forward to the very near future where we can fully carry forward our core values that have guided us from our start, under a brand and name that is consistent with all we strive to become and the integrity this community deserves. But taking action in regards to our name change is only resolving our most blatant transgression against the BIPOC community.  Not just in this moment, but in the months and decades to come we must show up for BIPOC, and all marginalized communities, in substantive action and systemic change. 

      To begin, we are committed to creating a work culture of learning and personal growth. We are a mostly white company, and our two principal owners are white men. As we’ve grown, we have not invested in the resources needed to fully support all members of our team or invite a more diverse workforce. We continue to uncover new ways in which we need to invest in this work, but at this point we can share that we have committed to:

      • Deepening our inclusivity work with Camila Coddou that we initiated this past winter, with the outcome of forming a Gender, Race and Inclusivity Team that will inform our company culture and establish robust policies and hiring practices.
      • Contracting with local resources to provide anti-racism training for all staff at our roastery and cafes.
      • Acting on the information and recommendations of our Gender Equity Report that was informed by all the female-identifying employees of the roastery. This report made it clear that gender inequality is entrenched in our workplace and creating awareness around this was step one. Step two is improving cultural habits that acknowledge and create safe gender dynamics, starting at the ownership level. And step three is elevating the authority of our female managers and leaders.
      • Immediately donating a total of $5000 to BLOC, Black Visions Collective, and MIGIZI to support their long term efforts on behalf of the BIPOC community and directing 25% of our 5% Giving Program to ongoing support of anti-racism and BIPOC organizations in the communities where we live and do business.
      • Continuing to support inclusivity efforts within the greater coffee industry as an ongoing focus within our industry partnerships.
      • Establishing an employee contribution matching program, to allied organizations of their choice, up to $250 per employee.

        I have been too urgent when deep engagement was needed and too slow when action was imperative. My learning and the company’s learning has been messy, and has come at the expense of others. I am deeply sorry and recognize that we must work to regain the trust of our greater community in this moment. 

        Thank you to everyone who continues to call us in to this introspection and necessary action.

        If you have any feedback you would like to share with me, please reach out to tj@kickapoocoffee.com.

        With gratitude,
        T.J. Semanchin, with the full support of Caleb Nicholes

        To read our initial name change announcement, and learn more, please click here to be redirected to our name change page.