Humphreys Street Coffee
Beans for Good
In South Nashville, a group of highly skilled coffee roasters and soap makers are hard at work. Each afternoon, they spend hours perfecting their craft, using a combination of art and science to create specialty products. Natural elements like lavender and cedarwood or rosemary and tangerine are carefully combined to make artisan soaps that are then beautifully sealed and packaged. Coffee beans from around the world are expertly roasted at just the right temperature as bold aromas fill the air of their workshop. And when they’re not busy creating, many of these individuals are training to become baristas as they prepare to open a coffee shop nearby in June of 2018.
But these roasters and makers aren’t who you’d expect.
Sixteen high school students from Nashville are employed each year by Humphreys Street, a social enterprise born from a desire to create jobs, provide mentoring opportunities that empower young people, and train teenagers in job skills such as customer service, marketing, and craftsmanship. This social enterprise was formed ten years ago through Harvest Hands, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization that provides after-school programs and sports leagues for elementary through middle school students living or attending school in South Nashville neighborhoods.
These neighborhoods are also home to some of the highest youth violence and poverty rates in the city, with seventy-two percent of program participants living in government housing at an average household income of $6,533. A lack of resources in the community, including transportation, makes it difficult for many students to participate in school sports or even experience life outside of their communities.
After opening Harvest Hands in 2008 to combat the cycle of poverty and violence, co-founders Brian and Courtney Hicks were quickly faced with a challenge. While young students were eager to participate in the organization’s after-school activities, they found it was much more difficult to get high school students involved. That’s when Brian and Courtney decided to create a small business with dreams to employ and empower these students.
“It’s not necessarily a business we have to be doing, but we want to show them the craft and the art of doing something like coffee and also give them something to do,” says Humphreys Street Coffee Shop’s Marketing Coordinator, Cailey Damron. “We’ve found that unemployment is one of the largest problems in the cycle of poverty. By giving our students these job skills, we’re hopefully setting them up for success.”
Humphreys Street Coffee employs sixteen high school students per year ranging from fourteen to seventeen years old. These students are mostly African American or refugees from Africa. After school from 3:30 to 5:30, you can find them busily roasting coffee, making soaps and body products, packaging items, shipping orders, and working sales events. All Humphreys Street employees are provided with financial literacy training, access to resources to open checking and savings accounts, opportunities to learn about colleges and trade schools, and the ability to earn academic scholarships upon graduation. Mentors also work with each student to share life experiences and provide guidance. Best of all, these students are able to earn money for their hard work in a neighborhood where few similar opportunities exist.
When Humphreys Street Coffee was founded in 2008, the student employees were working out of a church built in 1929. Since then, the South Nashville housing market has boomed. Many of the students and their families were forced to relocate to surrounding neighborhoods as an unfortunate result of gentrification. In 2016, Humphreys Street kept the church but relocated to a building within walking distance of the students’ school.
In June of 2018, this social enterprise will be opening their first coffee shop, Humphreys Street Coffee Shop, right where it all began in the old Nashville church. Here, they expect to be able to double the number of jobs they can offer.
According to Cailey, “The plus side of the growing market in Nashville is that we have this [church] building that’s now in an up and coming neighborhood, and we’re going to be able to use gentrification for justice. So the people in that neighborhood who will be buying specialty coffee will ultimately be serving this neighborhood down the road just two miles away.”
For these students, Humphreys Street has given them so much more than just a job. Rather, they’re gaining life and leadership skills, a true appreciation for work, and value in themselves. And many of these students choose to stick around after graduation. Ruben, one of the first student employees at Humphreys Street, now works as the primary coffee roaster and green coffee buyer, as well as roasting teacher and mentor for new students. “The student who was being mentored is now the mentor,” Cailey adds. A current employee, D'andre, is one of six students currently going through barista training and will be hired after graduation in May to work in the coffee shop while attending a nearby college.
“We’re just a vehicle to show them that they can do anything they want, and we’ll help them in any way to get to where they want to be,” says Cailey.
To learn more about Humphreys Street or to support them by purchasing handcrafted coffee or soap, you can visit them online at humphreysstreet.com. If you’re in the South Nashville area, be sure to visit Humphreys Street Coffee Shop opening this June!
Words by Lexie Bear
Photos courtesy of Humphreys Street
Cover Photo courtesy of Nathan DumLao