Whether they’re making a pit stop at Saxby’s in between classes or catching up with friends over lattes, Penn students have made coffee a vital component of their daily routines. From pumpkin spice lattes to toasted croissants, local coffee shops in Philadelphia define cultural trends and influence individuals' daily habits.
While many people simply view coffee as a trivial commodity popularized by caffeine addicts and sleep–deprived students, Blew Kind sees it as a powerful avenue for social activism. Her concept of ‘brewing’ social justice through a cup of coffee has helped to promote greater civic engagement in the Philadelphia community for over a decade.
Previously the co–owner and founder of Franny Lou’s Porch, Kind began her coffee–related social justice work 14 years ago. Named after civil rights activists Frances E.W. Harper and Fannie Lou Hamer, Franny Lou’s Porch served as a safe community forum where customers could indulge in specialty lattes and pastries while simultaneously debating imminent rent increases or rising police surveillance. With locally sourced menu items ranging from an “Anti–Oppression” sandwich to a “Nobody’s Free” lemonade, Franny Lou’s Porch invited customers to embrace cultural awareness and propose broader conversations centered around radical change.
Although Franny Lou’s Porch permanently closed in 2023, Kind has continued to pursue social change by creating her own community–based art gallery and cafe named D’Griot, which opened to the public for the first time on Sept. 10. Located in the heart of Germantown, D’Griot features Black and marginalized artists whose work encapsulates the gallery’s broader mission of communal connection through artistic expression.
By allowing artists to have the opportunity to create pieces of art that reflect their own lived experiences with oppression and adversity, Kind hopes to uplift suppressed voices and highlight the power enclosed within visual narratives to invoke community change. “I had this idea of doing community galleries on different parts of marginalized communities to uplift the Black and Brown population with the stories that exist there and just create sustainability, possibility, and healing,” she says.
After Franny Lou’s Porch closed, Kind wanted to create another community space like her cafe. According to Kind, D’Griot’s mission is to create “a place of story, ancestral guidance, present in the magic, focused on the future.” The gallery spotlights Black and Brown artists that are both storytellers and community activists.
Integrating her passion for artistic expression with her affinity for local cafes, Kind plans to incorporate a cafe section into the gallery, where customers can partake in healthy, locally sourced teas, lattes, and confections while discussing the introspective impact of the art around them. Drawing upon her past experience as a cafe owner, she envisions D’Griot to retain Franny Lou's model of social consciousness by ensuring that each menu item is ethically sourced and contributes to bolstering the community’s local economy.
While many businesses opt to import their ingredients from foreign countries, Kind believes that they neglect the abundance of natural resources that can be found in Philadelphia’s local communities. “I wanted to make sure our local economy can be cared for; instead of us outsourcing our work overseas or in the next country over or the next state over, it’s really beautiful when we can support the local economy—let’s get herbs from the growers next door or the town over even,” she explains.
Due to the relationship of trust between consumers and company owners, Kind encourages businesses to focus on educating consumers about the importance of ethical sourcing. Coffee production is a process that involves many steps—including harvesting, packaging, roasting and transportation—and the lack of visibility in this process makes it an industry particularly vulnerable to unjust labor practices. Thus, Kind believes it is critical that businesses remain committed to supporting other local businesses as well as promoting socially responsible consumption.
Beyond her work within the art and coffee industry, Kind has branched out into the world of online entrepreneurship and consulting. This past year, she has been working to design an online store dedicated to selling “radical ware,” which is clothing and accessories that promote calls for social equality and illuminates community empowerment.
Phrases such as “pro–love” or “anti–capitalist” are stamped across the front of these stickers, clothing items, and pin buttons in hopes of uniting customers as proponents of social justice within the Philadelphia community. With Philadelphia facing mounting political divisions and social challenges, Kind’s work towards creating greater collaboration and connection within local communities is critical in reinforcing civic engagement.
Alongside D’Griot, Kind also works as a consultant for entrepreneurs interested in entering the coffee industry to educate the next generation of social activists. Although she does not possess a professional degree in business, her previous work with her cafe renders her a savant in entrepreneurship, specifically on how to find success as a Black business owner. Through her unique approach to coffee cafes as a community space for civic discourse, she hopes to propagate the potential of local coffee shops to serve as a means for positive social activism and interpersonal communication.
Although she no longer oversees a physical cafe, her online store of “hospitality” and “radical ware” still aims to embody the cafe's previous values, which aimed to “ensure everything is local, organic, relational trade, and made with love.” By creating her locally roasted tea and coffee in refurbished vintage grinders and brewers, she sustains her dedication to running a socially conscious business centered around ethical consumption.
In addition to her online store, Kind plans to establish herself as an entrepreneurial consultant by teaching individuals the logistics surrounding opening their own cafe, cultivating a distinctive brand for their business, and teaching them how to craft their own specialty coffee drinks from the comfort of their home.
Kind’s decision to work as a social activist was derived from the strong connection and support she had always felt within her own community as well as the innate desire she harbored to spread a message of love amongst others. In a time characterized by turbulence and animosity, she hopes community residents find resilience amongst one another and form adamantine bonds of support.
From a young age, Kind’s mother instilled in her an admiration for the power that personal connection and love holds within a community. At 14, Kind began experimenting with crafting coffee drinks, and she soon found that the intersection between her love for coffee and extroverted nature could be used to create her cafe business.
“I liked the social aspect of the cafe, how people come and how they see people they know, it was just a very beautiful process to watch and it’s very healing,” she says. “Even during the pandemic, so many people didn’t see each other, but they would come to my window and see people, and it really helped their mental health.”
From her experience growing up in a supportive community, Kind was able to recognize the importance of community connection. Conversely, as a young woman in the foster care system, she was able to witness firsthand the racial injustices entrenched within society. “My heart is always pulled to tell the stories of people whose voices have not been heard. Truth seeking is part of my spirit,” she explains.
Although mounting social issues can appear daunting to address, Kind encourages individuals to repudiate the idea that social activism must operate on a large, citywide scale. Instead, her work with Franny Lou’s Porch and D’Griot proves that social change can start with something as simple as a freshly brewed cup of coffee.