Coffee, clothes and a cause

From a young age, alumna Diana Muuru ’22 has had a self described “passion for fashion.” When she started at the University of Washington Bothell, she planned on obtaining a degree that would be compatible with the industry and dreamed of one day working as a marketing manager for a fashion label.

That dream, however, began to shift after one of her advisers with UW Bothell’s Black Student Union introduced her to Black Coffee Northwest, a small business with a big mission.

“One of the owners, Darnesha Weary, came and spoke to us about her experience as a Black woman in corporate America and the challenges she faced starting her own business,” Muuru recalled. “I was so inspired by her and the work she was doing, I knew I had to get involved.”

Shortly after, Muuru began working parttime at Black Coffee Northwest, which is just as much a community hub for local Black youth as it is a coffee shop. In fact, the funds raised selling beverages and baked goods are invested into Grounded, the company’s nonprofit organization that supports school aged youth and is located right next door.

black coffee northwest
Marc Studer

Colors and causes

Completing her major in Business Administration and a minor in Human Rights this summer, Muuru is now the program manager at Grounded, which she helped start. Not only did she contribute to the physical design — choosing the paint colors, furniture and artwork for the space — but she also managed the curriculum design. “It’s like my baby,” she said. “I am really proud of it and the difference it will make.”

The space itself is divided into four different rooms, each with a different purpose. The red room, for example, is the recording studio for Grounded Conversations, a podcast that brews up discussions about topics that matter to the community such as women in leadership, Black men in business, and Black health and skin care. Muuru said she chose red because it is known to elicit feelings of strength and power, two emotions the podcasters hope to share with their audience.

podcast studio
Muuru in the podcast studio

“Any of our members are welcome to participate,” she said. “They can also use the room to learn how to engineer their own music. It provides great experience for anyone looking to go into the entertainment industry.”

Grounded also has a yellow room — a color associated with laughter and hope — that is used for weekly mental health sessions. The sessions are facilitated by two licensed therapists whom Grounded was able to hire with a grant from the City of Shoreline.

Last but not least is the blue room, a color known to elicit feelings of calm and order. This room is used as a study room and is equipped with bookshelves containing textbooks, notebooks and storybooks. A grant from King County allowed Muuru to purchase the supplies for this space.

“I shared our mission with the social impact coordinator at the King County Library System and was able to acquire a grant that included $5,000 for books, $1,500 to support programming and $500 for a bookshelf,” Muuru said. “This grant will further the mission of supporting excellence and success within the lives of youth by providing materials for them to foster their academic success as well as supporting their desire to seek and learn new knowledge.”

From the ground up

One of the nonprofits primary goals is to build community through youth leadership development. To achieve this, Grounded is run by college students of color and focuses on students of color in middle school and high school. “Everyone who works here is in their 20s or younger,” Muuru said. “We don’t just learn about leadership; we actually have the opportunity to practice it.”

This hands-on work is extremely beneficial to these developing leaders. By the time they graduate from college, many of these employees will have manager titles on their resumes from their time at the nonprofit and will have the experience to apply for associate-level jobs.

“Our boss gives us all business cards when we start working. She also helps us network by meeting with other local small business owners and includes us in larger events,” Muuru said. “She encourages us to make connections and pass out our business cards every chance we get.”

Grounded makes a significant impact on the participants, too. Muuru oversees the Black Coffee Internship, for example, a free eight-week barista training and social justice program that starts youth cohorts in the fall and spring. Participants can choose to participate in just the social justice program or just the barista training, but in most instances they choose to do both.

“I think it works really well because the barista training helps them get skills to start working now, while the social justice program prepares them for careers later on,” Muuru said.

Knowledge is power

The barista training is organized by leaders at Black Coffee Northwest while Muuru organizes the justice program at Grounded, designing the curriculum, connecting with local leaders to organize guest speakers and facilitating the activities.

While the program varies depending on the desires of the youth in each cohort, Muuru said she always includes a visit from Andra Kranzler, the directing attorney for the Tenant Law Center.

“A lot of the people who participate in the program are passionate about social justice issues,” she said. “Many participate in protests, and it’s important they are clear about what their rights are so if they ever get pushback, they have the information to defend themselves. We want them to know and protect their rights — and the rights of others — so no one can take them away.”

Another staple in the curriculum are passion posters. Muuru has each participant pick a social justice topic they are passionate about and create a visual representation of why that topic matters to them. “Students get the opportunity to express their creativity while also reflecting on issues that they care about which might one day inspire them to be a part of that change,” Muuru said.

Muuru in the yellow room she designed
Muuru showcasing the passion posters

In the past, students have chosen to make passion posters on women’s rights, global warming, gun legislation and more. The posters are then displayed on the walls at Grounded to inspire others in the community.

A different dream

After spending the past two years at Grounded and now graduating from UW Bothell, Muuru’s dream of joining a fashion company has changed.

“Working here has taught me that more than anything, I want to make an impact,” she said. “I want my life to be meaningful and to impact as many people as possible.”

Now she dreams of starting her own fashion-based nonprofit. “I think it would be so cool to start a nonprofit that takes people’s old, discarded clothes and repurpose them into work wear,” she said. “In interviews, people’s first impression of you is often what you are wearing, and not everyone has access to clothes that represent them in the way of their choosing — but I want to change that.”

With start-up and management experience under her belt, Muuru is well on her way. “I am so grateful for UW Bothell and the community I found here,” she said. “If it weren’t for my adviser in BSU, I may have never heard about Black Coffee Northwest.

“But more than that, I loved my time at the University. It helped shape me into who I am today, and for that I will always be grateful.”

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