anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson

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“Walking down a pathway of doing something you have no earthly idea of what it will bring–that’s called faith.”

-Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson is a powerhouse in the coffee industry. The founder of BD Imports, she sits on the board of the National Coffee Association and for two years served as the Vice President of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

Johnson works tirelessly to advocate for women in coffee as well as on diversity issues, which is essential in an industry that is predominantly white and male. Coffee comes with a complex, and often dark history, and the industry that keeps us caffeinated daily is still fraught with those complexities. Johnson believes in facing them head on. As she wrote in an article about diversity and representation in the coffee industry, “when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes.”

Through her work, Phyllis ensures that the people producing coffee are respected, paid and honored for their work and that women and minority communities have a seat at the table. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Johnson about race and coffee, which ended up being one of my favorite interviews that I have ever conducted, mostly because the conversation challenged my own thinking. So of course I wanted to include her in the Women’s Wisdom Project.

Johnson and I discussed her work by phone, and the interview has been edited for clarity.

Who is Phyllis Johnson?

I’m someone who cares deeply about a lot of things, I’m someone who is extremely optimistic. I’ve been blessed to be around people who were always encouraging, from the time I was a young child. So even now, there’s always that shadow of someone, either physically or no longer there, that kind of sits over me and says “you can do this, keep going.” I think that I’m very optimistic and one of the things that I always try to do is to be optimistic to other people. As I have gotten older, I can see the optimism in things but I can also see the other side of the things. I’m trying to understand even the simplest thing as a whole instead of coming to a quick decision on how you believe, or what you think about something.

When I think about who I am and I think about my, my past and my present, I’ve always tried to align myself with individuals who are not thought of as being the ones to have the answers. For most of my life, there are places that I walk in where I think people look at me as a positive figure. So I’m often trying see the other side of it and see what it’s like to not be heard. There are situations where I am totally not heard at all, don’t get me wrong. I know those moments in those times in my life when I have an invisible being, so I’m always thinking about that invisible being because it is who I am as well.

When we’re fighting the fight and we have our issues, we can lose sight of the humanity in each other. That’s something that I’ve always hoped to hold onto; even though we might disagree, there’s some message that you have for me and I have for you.

What does the word wisdom mean to you?

When I was younger I would think of wisdom being housed in older people who have struggled, the struggle is on their face, they learned from their experiences, that’s what wisdom kind of meant. After starting a company in my mid 30s, I remember a biblical verse that came to me when I felt that I was trying to do something that I had no idea what I was doing: “wisdom belongs to God.” For me, growing up with a Christian background, that gave me equal footing. It was like, “wow, wisdom doesn’t have to be held inside of me, it’s something that I can ask for and I can look for and gain insight from and it’s not relegated to certain people or race or gender, it’s out there. Then I have a chance at it.” As a younger person that verse resonated with me and even when I’m talking to a younger person who’s trying to find a way that’s something I always say to them because, you know, we always think that someone else knows how to do something better, or that they have the answer. I think that’s part of being a human being; we think that there’s a super human out there, someone who is smarter, brighter. But the ability to gain what they have isn’t impossible for you. There’s an equal opportunity at gaining wisdom and insight through different mechanisms, either experiences, or in conversations with people who share their experiences. It’s available, and it’s available at all ages.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 15, 2019 at 08:01