Back in January, local comedian W. Kamau Bell wrote a lengthy tale of a frustrating, unfortunate incident that happened to him outside the Elmwood Cafe, a place he and his wife like to frequent, his wife especially. Bell is black, and his wife is white, and that day was his birthday. He and his wife had been at the cafe for breakfast, and then his wife had returned there with a couple of her New York friends who have babies for lunch, sitting at one of the outside tables, that same day. This time, though, Bell did not immediately join them, walked to a nearby bookstore, and then came to talk to his wife and friends at their table, at which point an employee of the cafe, possibly mistaking him for a panhandler, came knocking at the window from inside and telling him to shoo, basically.
"Seriously. That is what happened," Bell wrote. "Maybe it was, 'GIT! Or maybe it was, 'GO!' Whatever it was, it was certainly directed at me. And it was certainly the kind of direction you should only give to a dog a dog that you, yourself, own." The employee later admitted they thought he was "selling something," and tried to assure Bell's wife, "I don't think it was a race thing."
In any event, he posted the blog, it made the rounds, and though he was not asking for people to boycott the cafe or to have someone fired, he did say, "It was something really shitty happening to [me and my wife] at her (soon to be formerly) favorite breakfast spot."
Anyway, now, as Bell announces, he and the owner of the Elmwood Cafe, Michael Pearce, will be having a public conversation this Friday, March 13, about "implicit bias and microaggression experiences in the East Bay."
From the announcement:
It was the kind of story mainstream media couldn’t resist: a local TV personality, accusations of racism, and the backdrop Berkeley reportedly the most liberal place in America. And usually that is where a story like that ends. But not this time. Soon after the incident Michael Pearce, an advocate for social justice and owner of the café reached out to the Bell family and immediately apologized. He said he wanted to know what he could do to make sure that this kind of incident never happened again. Melissa and Kamau said all they wanted was a conversation with him, and they wanted to invite the community to come participate.
March 13th that conversation is happening. And thanks to the Berkeley Unified School District, it will be at Willard Middle School. The Bells and Michael Pearce will participate on a panel that will be facilitated by Berkeley’s own, Pamela Harrison-Small former Executive Director of the Berkeley Alliance. And just so it is clear that this is not just the story of the Bells struggles but how an unfortunate incident can be turned into positive change for the Berkeley community.
The panel will also feature Berkeley High School Senior and President of the Berkeley High Black Student Union, Kadijah Means, ACLU-Northern California Staff Attorney, Novella Coleman, and other panelists TBA. After the panel, the floor will be opened up to members of the community who are in attendance for their comments and questions. The hope is that we will all leave with a broader understanding of the complex racial issues facing our community and have greater practice addressing them through conversation.