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Ogden coffee shop owner, activist push for social justice

January 3, 2021 GMT

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — It started with a simple conversation between two men deeply invested in the lifeblood of Ogden.

Their connection has resulted in a seemingly small but promisingly hopeful step on the path to social justice.

Amir Jackson founded and operates Nurture the Creative Mind, a nonprofit that works to empower youth through creativity and the development of marketable skills.

Darren Blackford owns Wasatch Roasting Co. with his wife, Tonya, a craft coffee roastery and coffee shop at 2436 Grant Ave. and the site of frequent community art projects.

Jackson said he and Darren Blackford were talking one day about “the current environment of social justice.”

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“The conversation wasn’t two people who absolutely and completely agreed, but two people who wanted to engage each other and find some mutual understandings,” Jackson said in a phone interview Wednesday.

They didn’t stay immersed in controversial matters such as racial injustice protests or police conduct, but rather came up with an answer to, “What can we do?”

One result is Wasatch Roasting’s creation of three coffee blends highlighting social justice.

The new products are called “Diversity Blend,” “Unity Blend” and “Equality Blend.”

Young artists from Nurture the Creative Mind created the art for the coffee bags, and a portion of the coffee sales revenue goes to the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, where Jackson is a board member.

“Rather than focus on the things that actually pull us apart, let’s try to find those areas that unite us and bring us together,” Jackson said.

“There are always going to be disagreements,” he said. “Maybe working with people you don’t agree with on everything, we’ll have a better chance for progress.”

Blackford and Jackson agreed not to focus on one movement or idea.

They came up with “a social justice theme that doesn’t come across as political, but a universal message, something that a majority of people regardless of political leanings can agree on,” Jackson said.

The Blackfords and Jackson have known each other the past several years because of their mutual interest in community arts.

Nurture the Creative Mind’s students have created art throughout the community, and the Blackfords have allowed community artists to paint murals on the side of their building.

For the coffee blends project, young artists created the bag designs.

“These three students, they each were paid for their work,” Jackson said. “Now they’re young 15-, 16-year-old paid professional artists,” he said.

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Efforts to contact the Blackfords for this story were unsuccessful Wednesday.

In a news release, the ACLU of Utah said projects like the Ogden offering ”are designed to offer hope within their Utah communities for positive change for racial justice.”

“The ACLU of Utah is honored to receive a portion of the proceeds from the sales in 2020-2021,” it said.

Jackson said of his collaboration with Darren Blackford, “It was never our intent to create a product; it was just a conversation between two people with mutual respect for one another.”

“We can all do something to tip the scales in favor of good and positivity,” Jackson said later in an email. “I hope this inspires others to find their way to do so.”