By day, James Joyce III works as a District Director for State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. Outside of his day job, he has launched a movement simply named Coffee With A Black Guy (CWABG). The name means exactly what it says: Joyce invites members of the community to talk over coffee and shares insights on his experience as a black man in society. Joyce recently sat down with the Santa Barbara Foundation to speak about CWABG and race relations within the community, and society as a whole.
Why do you think CWABG is important to the Santa Barbara community?
James Joyce: I don’t think it’s important just for Santa Barbara; I think it’s important for our country. It’s been reiterated several times, even going back to the Obama presidency and was spoken on in his town hall meeting about race. He encouraged folks to sit down, get away from computer screens, and actually talk with one another.
At that point, CWABG had already been started, so hearing that was validation that there’s an urgency for us to just sit down and talk. We’re in a digital world, and often have an interpersonal divide, but this helps to break that down.
What is your goal when facilitating these discussions? What do you want attendees to take away when they leave?
JJ: There isn’t necessarily a main takeaway. [The discussion] could be a complete disaster, but the objective is to provide a space to be messy. These conversations are messy. Not everyone is adept in discussing race. It just so happens that by the blessing of my skin [color], I’ve become adept in dealing with it my whole life. (Laughs) The goal is to create human connection around issues that affect me, and people who look like me; therefore, it affects us all.
What has been the response from participants who attend these discussions?
JJ: There has been some surprising feedback. Individuals have thanked me for providing this space and unpacking the conversation. There have been testimonials from people who listened to one of my podcast interviews and told me I’m brave for opening up about these issues. People begin to recognize their own biases after engaging in these discussions.
When I think about this movement, I don’t want it to be about me. I just happen to be one black guy who opened up office hours to talk about race. But essentially, any black person can lead this discussion, depending on their level of comfort. All of our experiences are not the same, and that’s important for folks to know as well.
How would you like to see this movement expand, either within, or beyond Santa Barbara County?
JJ: Well, it’s currently expanding already within the community. I recently had lunch with some folks at a retirement community who are interested in hosting a CWABG session. They see that the whole community is white, and they need diversity.
I’m going to have conversations at SBCC, and I’ve helped nonprofits with board diversity conversations. Not only do [race relations] affect our community, but [they] also affect business. When you look at companies like Google, they’ve devoted a lot of money to diversity initiatives but they still have some issues so this is something that needs to be unfolded even further as a society.
As a black professional who works in a high-profile position and also speaks openly on race relations, what insight would you share with black professionals who may fear retaliation at their jobs for addressing similar issues?
JJ: I believe there’s a time and place for everything. Not all work environments are conducive to these conversations at any given time. But, in the state of California specifically, there are certain workplace protections. I would advise [those professionals] to be educated on what those protections are and not be afraid to push the envelope, because without [speaking up], the problems will persist.
Several black men and women at the CWABG discussion described feeling isolated at work and other public spaces in the community. What do you think they, or other residents can do, to address these feelings of isolation?
JJ: [There needs to be] more inclusion and infusion. It means more than diversity; it means coming together as a community to advocate for the expansion of the black space. It means putting in efforts to support organizations like the Black Student Union at UCSB, and supporting black businesses.
By being present and being unapologetically black, being a part of the community and not apart from it, there’s really no option but to include us at that point. One example is the Santa Barbara Young Black Professionals organization, we need that. There are a few organizations we are absent from, but they could certainly benefit from our presence.
During the discussion, an attendee mentioned being “colorblind,” which you said you wholeheartedly disagreed with. Sometimes colorblindness is seen as the progressive solution to racism. What do you believe is a more beneficial alternative?
JJ: Inclusion and infusion are the most important factors. Don’t say you don’t see me…see me. See the value in me. I think it’s as simple as that. The black experience is not a monolith, and frequently, it’s imbued with racial trauma. It’s unfortunate that it exists, but it does exist, so why not use it as a teachable moment for the greater good to make improvements?
What are your final thoughts on the importance of discussing race in the community?
JJ: Overall, there seems to be an increasing openness in society to have conversations about race. The fact that reparations are now being discussed on the platforms of several presidential candidates, puts it front and center for these issues to be addressed.
I strongly feel that black people, who arguably experience racial issues every day of our lives, are adept to help navigate the conversation. You can’t talk about racial issues in America without talking to black folks. I encourage my brothers and sisters to open up and have conversations. Share your valuable experience, if you’re willing. Let’s talk about it, and help others understand where we are collectively as a community.
Learn more about Coffee with a Black and upcoming events by visiting the Lois & Walter Capps Project website.