Birmingham business accountability and conversations about race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The killings of George Floyd, Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery are some of the events that brought the country to an uncomfortable conversation about race last year. Some companies responded with social media statements of support for the movement. But a year later, have they lived up to making the change they suggested?

At Cahaba Brewing Company, which Eric Myer and friends started in a garage, there’s a lot to celebrate. Myer said, “We are a local brewery that is based here in Birmingham. We only sell beer in the state of Alabama and the state and the city of Birmingham has been huge supporters of Cahaba.”

But as the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama... some feel their glass is far from full.

“I feel like the big problem with craft beer at the time, not only to people of color, but women of color as well is just the barriers to entry in terms of education, in terms of feeling welcome in the taproom,” said Cahaba Marketing Director Kayla Stennet.

Founder Eric Myer and marketing director Kayla Stennet insist Cahaba was already talking about how to do more in the community last year as the country was going through the racial reckoning in 2020, but they say it led the Cahaba to accelerate its plans.

“There’s no way for us to improve how we relate to each other without folks getting uncomfortable,” said Birmingham business consultant Carmen Mays.

Mays tracked local companies that made statements in support for the movement and a year later, she followed up with those she’d catalogued to see if they had followed through. Mays said, “Some organizations and companies did take it seriously, worked with people in the community to diversify their staff, to understand bias more, to understand historically what has happened.”

Mays says Cahaba Brewing is among those who made a significant effort.

Stinnett says they started in-house. “So that’s when we talked about doing the craft beer cheat sheets, a simple way for people to get more education about beer without necessarily having to ask the questions. That’s when we started training our staff to better explain the beers.”

They also connected with people like Ashley Gray, a beer-focused influencer who has brewed beer with Cahaba and worked with them on events like Pour us Another.

Gray said, “We get all women vendors out there. We try to have mostly women-run food trucks, and if they’re not mostly run they’re women owned, and we really just try to make it, uh, a women-forward event, honestly, because that is, we are really underrepresented in the beer industry.”

Myers has this advice for companies concerned about the risk of not coming across the way they’d hoped. “I think it’s coming and having good team members and trusting in your team members and going to them saying, you know, I don’t, I don’t know what to say here. Help me out.”

And where some might hesitate to help empower potential competitors, Myers says he and other brewers see an opportunity to lift everyone. “The, the idea for us is we’re trying to build what Birmingham is. As a community, we can grow yeah, there’s competition. But if you’re going to drink a local beer, that’s great. You’re supporting another small business that hopefully is supporting the local community.” “So just support local. And if you can drink local, you can eat local, you can support local again, we can make this whole community grow.”

Stennett says one more thing Cahaba has done is use money from its Pour us Another event is provide scholarships for women to help them begin careers in the brewing industry.

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Steve Crocker

Steve Crocker

Steve Crocker co-anchors the 6 and 9pm newscasts at WBRC FOX6 News.