How Berkeley’s 1951 Coffee Employs Refugees & Inspires Communities

Once you walk through its doors, you are reminded that beauty and hope are still around us.

With all the recent tragic events that have taken place, such as the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, it is easy to become cynical and forget that there is still good that exists in our world today. However, right here in Berkeley on the corner of Telegraph and Channing, there is a delightful oasis known as 1951 Coffee Shop. Once you walk through its doors, you are reminded that beauty and hope are still around us. Like most coffee shops you step into, you hear a soft jazz in the background juxtaposed with the crackling of the coffee beans as they roast to a perfect brown. On the wall adjacent to the entrance is an expansive map that documents and outlines the journey of a refugee from his or her home to the United States. 1951 isn’t your average coffee shop, but rather a welcoming place for people from a variety of communities to understand each other’s differences through a cup of coffee.

1951 Coffee Shop is a non-profit organization that includes a training program and a cafe; it is specifically designed to serve displaced refugees from around the world by providing them with the “hard skills” they need in order to recreate a life for themselves in America. The employees are refugees from countries all over the world such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan. As Doug Hewitt explains, the Co-Founder and Director of Programs, “the training program prepares the refugees to work in the coffee industry, while the cafe employs them”. He continues to explain to me how “very rarely people realize there is a large refugee population within the bay area that needs a high level of assistance in the beginning”, but that the coffee shop allows “the refugee community to easily become a part of the larger mixed population”. He describes this oasis as a

“unique place for the refugee community to interact with Americans, and for Americans to come and understand the life of a refugee”.

They educate the public through creative means, such as having the employees re-create coffees that originate from their home countries, giving customers a taste into their cultures.

Yasmeen Faisal


Yasmeen currently studies Music Therapy & Human-Centered Design at UC Berkeley. Her favorite travel memory is backpacking in Peru for 6 weeks! She loves photography, film, singing & playing piano.

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