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Women Who Mix: Black Mixologists You Need To Know

These black female mixologists are disrupting the cocktail space.

Human Interest

For years, the cocktail industry has been dominated by men. But women, especially women of color, are taking their rightful place on the throne and are doing what we do best - being a boss! Recently, we sat down with some of the leading mixologists that are literally shaking up the cocktail industry.

From winning cocktail competitions, becoming the first of their kind to publish a cocktail book, and to being booked and busy by some of the world's most influential brands, these women know a thing or two about the art of mixology.

These women have all worked their way through the trenches, are self-made bosses, and in their own unique way, have built companies that have notably disrupted the game.

Because we can definitely appreciate a good cocktail or two, we couldn't help but to connect with these ladies and of course, we asked them to give us the tea on how they got started and what they've done to achieve the success that they have now. Keep reading to get to know these leading mixologists and learn how they are stirring up far more than just well-crafted cocktails.

The mixologist that you and your favorite brand love to book:

​Jessica Robinson of JusTini Cocktails

@justinicocktails

Courtesy of Jessica Robinson

How did you get started?

I've been a mixologist for 12 years. I started when I was in college at Southern University. A classmate of mine started talking to me about a job at a bar she was working at. At the time, I didn't know much about liquor, just really the basics - I would just mix up Malibu and pineapple juice. But my friend convinced me and said that she would be able to help me get the job. So I started working there and that's how I got started. I fell in love with everything that came with the job, from the atmosphere to the people. Once I got started working as a mixologist, I never stopped.

Before I graduated from Southern, I actually started working in retail, and was juggling being a manager, going to school, and bartending on the side. Once I graduated, I got a job in my major which was doing marketing for a McDonald's franchise and I was also still bartending at night. I ended up getting laid off from McDonald's because they were downsizing and during that time is when I started building JusTini Cocktails. Shortly after that, I worked in HR doing contract work which allowed me to get started with bartending full-time. Now, I've been running Justini's for about a year and a half now.

What makes you unique?

I typically get a mix of both weddings and corporate/social events. I've done events for Essence, Pepsi, and the Urban League.

In my business, my brand is more than just a drink. I create an experience for my guests, from the presentation of my drink, to the name of the cocktail, and the fact that my drinks are actually really good.


What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

I think in the beginning, the biggest challenge that I went through was branding myself to show the need for my type of service. Once I was able to show the need, I was able to get the clientele that I wanted. A quote that keeps me motivated is by Elizabeth Gilbert and it says, "The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes."

The mixologist creating Instagrammable cocktails that’ll give your friends extreme FOMO

Kimberly Hunter of Potent Pours

@potentpours

Courtesy of Kimberly Hunter

How did you get started?

Potent Pours launched two years ago but I've definitely been a mixologist for longer than that. Potent Pours was actually birthed from my kitchen bar area. I would often make cocktails for myself, my sister, and friends when we couldn't get to happy hour because of rush hour traffic. When my sister and friends would come over, I would create really potent and beautiful cocktails for them using gorgeous glassware and over the top garnishes.

After a while, my sister actually suggested that I consider making cocktails professionally because of the beauty, attention to detail, and energy that I would put into every drink that I would make. When I started thinking about working in the industry, I tried to figure out where my place would be and how I could start working in it. Because of my schedule with my children, I always knew that working late nights at a bar wouldn't be ideal. From there, I did some research and started looking for a way to bring craft cocktails to the masses and saw that there was a booming market for mobile mixologists. I went ahead and did more research, got my license, and then started working on my brand.

What makes you unique?

My secret sauce is really the whole Potent Pours experience. Every person that has had my cocktails love how I create really potent, over-the-top, Instagrammable cocktails that overall makes the whole experience in indulging so much better. Also, my clients and their guests can always count on me to create original, unique cocktail recipes that they haven't seen or had anywhere else.

Since I launched my company, a lot of my business actually comes from social media. Typically, I've found that clients will book me after seeing their friends post about my cocktails. One thing about my cocktails is that I'm obsessed with making every single drink very potent, very pleasing to the eye, and really something that you would be excited to share with friends on social media.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

One of the challenges that I've faced is getting the right client. It's important for me to service clients that really appreciate all of the work and creative energy that goes into my business. Whenever I'm booked for an event, I never show up with a bunch of alcohol and pre-made, store-bought mixers. Literally, every cocktail that I make is handcrafted and are my original recipes. All of my cocktails are also made with juices or add-ons that are all created in-house. None of my cocktails have extra preservatives or anything like that. Finding the right client to appreciate all of this and the work that goes into creating the cocktail has been a challenge. I've been able to find awesome clients that get it, but every now and then, I run into some that don't.

A quote that keeps me motivated when I'm having long days is, "Just do that shit!" Whenever I'm scared to launch a new product or when I get overwhelmed, I tell myself to really "just do that shit" and it gives me the motivation that I need to keep pushing and to just get it done.

The #Blackgirlmagic mixologist duo putting Charleston on the map

Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves of Cocktail Bandits

@cocktailbandits

Courtesy of Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves

How did you get started?

Taneka: Cocktail Bandits ended up becoming a business because we were living in Charleston and we saw the food and beverage industries growing. Even though we saw it growing, we didn't really see a place for us in it. At the time, I was working at an urban bar and they didn't care about being creative with the cocktails. It was really about just making rum and coke or gin and juice drinks.

When I would make my cocktails really creative, my boss didn't like it because they were unable to recreate the drinks when I wasn't at work. So I started trying to find work at a high-end bar, but I couldn't find work there because of my appearance (I was natural). In Charleston at the time, we had over 400 bars downtown and maybe 5 Black mixologists. In 2012 and 2013, a lot of people weren't used to the natural look from people of color so it was hard for me to get a job. Since no one was responding back to my job applications, Johnny and I decided to create a lane for ourselves by launching our own brand.

What makes you unique?

Johnny: We talk about spirits in a very approachable way. I think in the beverage market, buying spirits can be very intimidating. Sometimes a lot of people speak about cocktail spirits in a very elevated way that most consumers don't understand. We work hard on exposing people to new things, and on educating, entertaining, and empowering the consumer so that when they go to the bar, they are confident in what they are ordering.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

Taneka: I think one challenge for us has been figuring out the budget cycles for companies. We learned that every company pretty much has a different budgeting cycle so we've been working on figuring that out for companies we're interested in. Whenever we run into challenges, one quote that keeps us motivated is to not look at anything like an obstacle but look at it as an opportunity.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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Featured image by Johnny & Neka/Instagram

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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