A tiny crack appeared in my heart when I first heard the rumor that one of Dallas’ preeminent social enterprises, The Demeter Project, would be closing along with their “It’s a Grind” coffee shop in Deep Ellum.
For the past three years, this company has endeavored to provide a living wage with benefits, vacation and flexible hours to employees who could not traditionally access them. Then, today, I received emails from Serena Connelly confirming that the venture was closing its doors.
But then, an amazing thing happened. Rain did not pour through that little crack that had appeared in my heart — instead, sunlight burst forth from it.
This is not a day of mourning, I realized. This is a day of celebration — albeit a different celebration than we’d like. After all, for three years, Serena Connelly reshaped the discussion around poverty in our community. She focused many of these conversations on the issue of “living wage,” a concept that is radically different from minimum wage and that changes the dynamic of the employer-employee battle for prosperity.
I say that this is a victory because the ripple effect of her work has “bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” as MLK might say.
Yes, this one business is closing. Part of the problem is that her commitment to social justice was expensive, right at a time when the economy was taking a huge dip — and a $4 cup of coffee suddenly became much more of a luxury than it was before.
But look at what she has done:
- Provided a living wage, benefits, flexible hours…. and dignity to a workforce that might otherwise find it hard to secure employment, let alone the self-respect that comes with being able to provide for your family. Here her talk about it on KERA’s “Think” show here.
- Secured significant media coverage for their venture, exposing thousands of people to their ideas. Like here and here and here. Oh, and here. And the podcast on the bullet above.
- Bolstered the hopes of countless other social entrepreneurs. I know that Soap Hope, Chooze Shoes, Banner Theory and many others were inspired by her work… and much of their future success will be paved down trails that Serena and the Demeter Project team all blazed for them.
Personally, I also know that this coffee shop provided an amazing venue for conversations about these issues and a great environment for the local nonprofiteers, social entrepreneurs and do-gooders to gather. Indeed, for the first few months after I left the Center for Nonprofit Management to start Executives in Action, I was virtually officing out of their coffee shop!
I often joked that “Norm had Cheers, and I have It’s a Grind.” So, I will confess, it will be harder to enjoy my morning coffee without It’s a Grind’s amazing employees there to provide it for me. I will no longer have a “go-to” meeting place for my gatherings with my fellow nonprofiteers.
And yet today, my heart is full of joy and gratitude for this amazing venture and all that it added to my life and to our community over the past three years. Thank you to Serena and everyone at the Demeter Project for throwing such a large rock into the pond of economic justice — may the ripples of your work create a wave that raises the tide for all boats!
(UPDATE: Serena passed away in April, 2020. See Salah’s beautiful goodbye letter here. See her obituary here.)