Bringing people together over a beer. That’s the goal of several businesses from across central Alberta that have joined forces to create a fundraiser beer to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Beer is a great equalizer. You can break down a lot of barriers just by sitting down and having a beer with someone,” said Haydon Dewes, owner of Calgary’s Cabin Brewing.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white or Asian or gay or big or small. You can still enjoy a good beer.”
The Black is Beautiful fundraiser began last month in Texas when Black brewer Marcus Baskerville of Weathered Souls Brewing decided to brew a stout to raise awareness about racism, discrimination, and police brutality in the U.S. Baskerville released his base recipe and challenged other brewers to craft their own stout, and give all proceeds to Black causes and charities.
Since then, more than 1,000 breweries from around the globe have signed on to brew their own Black is Beautiful stout, including Cabin Brewing.
“Beer is social currency — it brings people together. You can use it to create more good than it’s worth,” said Dewes. “So we wanted to get behind it and raise some money.”
It only took a few minutes to decide they wanted to brew their own black forest coffee stout, and finding the partners to work with was almost as quick. Red Shed Malting donated all the speciality malts while other donated coffee beans, design work and labels. All money raised will go to Calgary’s Sankofa Arts and Music Foundation, a Black-led charity that works with Black youth in the city.
“Because we had very generous suppliers, we were able to say we’re going to give every single dollar from every single beer to this charity,” said Dewes. “We’re looking at $20,000, which is great.”
These funds will be used to create a scholarship fund for Black youth pursuing a post-secondary education or trades apprenticeship program.
“The thing that struck us about Sankofa is that it’s very much a grassroots organization. They really struggle for every dollar that they get. Us donating $20,000 to Sankofa is a huge deal for them. They can do a lot with that.”
The support is even more significant than the money raised, said Sankofa spokesperson Marie-Michelle Melotte.
“Black people in general, but especially Black youth, are so used to no one caring — to being erased, to being dismissed, to being criminalized,” she said.
“So this means everything. It shows that someone in the community — a business leader — cares enough that they would brew this beer and give 100 per cent of the proceeds to Sankofa to create a scholarship for Black youth.
“It means the world to Sankofa and the children.”
Sankofa launched five years ago when its executive director noticed there were kids in the community with nowhere to go on Friday nights.
“Being Black in the city comes with a lot of baggage, so it became a place where they could express themselves and where they could be safe with people that look like them,” said Melotte.
And though it started as an arts and music foundation, it quickly evolved into a space for sharing stories and creating new ones.
“It’s more than just an arts and music organization. It’s a safe haven that is focused on uplifting Black youth,” said Melotte. “It’s really a place where they can just be themselves safely.”
But not many people outside the Black community know about the work that Sankofa — and other Black charities across Alberta — are doing, said Dewes.
“If we’re being honest, we probably never would have given a second thought to whether Black youth in Calgary have resources to do well at school or even just to be on a level playing field with other Calgarians,” he said.
But that’s not just a big-city issue, he added.
“We’re well aware of the issues of racism — more so now that we’ve spent the last month really delving into it,” he said.
“But it must feel very removed if you’re a long way from the city and it’s not something you deal with every day. As Albertans and as human beings, I think it’s upon all of us to take a couple minutes to think about it and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
That’s one of the reasons that Penhold-based Red Shed Malting decided to get involved.
“It’s a city-based organization, but this is also a small-town issue,” said co-owner Matt Hamill. “We saw pushback when there was a Black Lives Matter rally in Innisfail and in Stettler, so it’s not something we’re immune to by any means.”
Although the company, a family affair, is a small rural-based company, “it’s important for us to use our voice to contribute to good causes,” said Hamill.
And it’s appreciated, said Melotte, who grew up riding horses in rural Alberta.
“I was often the only Black face wherever we found ourselves in the country, and I actually found that country people were much more receptive to us than a lot of city folk,” she said.
“I know personally that that kind of support from rural Alberta was something I appreciated. I’m sure it would have the same impact on other urban youth to see this support from rural Alberta.”
For Dewes, that’s the real beauty of the Black is Beautiful fundraiser — reminding Albertans that “we’re all connected in this province, even though we’re well spread out.”
“Every part of every city, every part of every rural area, is connected in some way, shape, or form,” he said.
“If we can support those who need the help the most, that’s going to benefit everybody in the long run. It’s going to make Calgary a better city and Alberta a better province.”
Cabin Brewing’s Black is Beautiful black forest stout is expected to sell out quickly, but donations can be made directly to the scholarship fund at sankofayyc.org.