Global grind

Author Clifton Taulbert operates a Rwandan-sourced coffee company.



With business partner Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, noted Tulsan Clifton Taulbert operates the first certified African-American-owned U.S. coffee company.

Evan Taylor

Clifton Taulbert is many things: a motivational speaker; an award-winning author; and the inspiration for a feature film, “Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored,” based on his memoir of the same name.

One thing he never thought he would become was president and CEO of a coffee company. 

But Taulbert couldn’t resist when Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, the president of Arkansas Baptist College, approached him in 2012 about leading the operations of Roots Java, a Rwandan-sourced coffee business, from Tulsa. The men met in 2011 at an event in Little Rock, Ark.

Hill says a 2009 trip to Rwanda inspired him to establish African Bean Co., which supplies the coffee beans for Roots Java. 

The company’s process spans the globe. Independent farmers in Rwanda grow and hand-pick coffee beans, which are sent to a roasting plant in Arkansas. From there, the coffee is shipped to homes and stores around the world. 

Many of the coffee farmers, who live in the mountains of Rwanda, are survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocides that killed approximately 800,000 men, women and children because of their ethnic background. 

The effects of the genocides are still felt across the region as families and local economies struggle to rebuild. Many still live as refugees.

Taulbert says he was moved by the history of the Rwandan farmers and the opportunity to support their families through an international supply chain.

“I like being able to turn a lemon into lemonade, to turn a challenge into opportunity,” Taulbert says. “Coffee is one of the largest traded commodities besides oil. It’s a huge, huge business, and it’s a huge business that had its birth on the continent of Africa.”

The National Minority Supply Development Council certified Roots Java as the first African-American-owned U.S. coffee company. Taulbert values the distinction.

“In the world of legal segregation that I grew up in, you had to have your own business because white businesses were not open to you,” Taulbert recalls. 

“I grew up around black entrepreneurs, so that has always stuck with me. The opportunity to own a business sort of establishes that you are part of the American dream.”

Though Taulbert has not yet traveled to Rwanda to meet the company’s farmers in person, Hill returned in 2012.

“It’s been the most moving experience I’ve ever had,” Hill says. “Visiting Rwanda is very spiritual to me.” 

Both men say they are thrilled to be making a difference, and they agree the coffee’s taste makes it one of a kind.

“All over the world, whatever the coffee may be, coffee demands a story,” Taulbert says. 

Thanks to Roots Java, the stories of several Rwandan coffee farmers might end more happily. 

 

Roots Java can be purchased locally at Dillard’s at Woodland Hills Mall or at www.rootsjava.com.

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