We operate as a coffee shop, but our mission is to end human trafficking by educating the public, partnering with anti-trafficking organizations and investing in aftercare for survivors. We use our space to introduce our customers to the concept of human trafficking with infographics and awareness events that provide a deeper understanding of the issue and it’s intersection with our lives and other social justice issues.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Raggett.
Erica Raggett graduated from California Polytechnic State University with degrees in Ecology and Systematic Biology and Animal Science. After learning about the disparities in education, she decided to pursue educational equity through working with Teach For America, a national non-profit organization aimed at closing the education gap in America. She remained in the field of education working for YES College Prep, a system of charter schools committed to ensuring that every student, despite their zip code, goes to college. At YES College Prep she worked as a teacher, District Science Content Specialist and Dean of Instruction, until she learned about the issue of human trafficking.
With this newfound knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit, Erica launched A 2nd Cup, Houston’s first and only non-profit coffee shop working to fight human trafficking in the city. Erica is dedicated to ensuring that A 2nd Cup becomes a major hub of anti-trafficking education and action and a beacon of light to those still trapped in modern-day slavery.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Igrew up in Bakersfield, CA, a little town in the Central Valley of California known for its oil and agriculture. I was the middle of three daughters growing up in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. We were very close. I was a classic middle child overachiever — always striving for peace over conflict and working hard to excel at everything I tried.
Faith was a major part of my life growing up and shaped who I was. Loving humanity and fighting for justice became driving forces behind how I wanted to live my life.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
In 2011, I started an organization called A 2nd Cup, a non-profit coffee shop working to fight human trafficking. It was a pretty cutting edge idea at the time and there weren’t a lot of models for us to follow. It often feels like we’ve been building a plane while we’re flying it without instructions, while simultaneously trying to explain to people what a plane is.
We operate as a coffee shop, but our mission is to end human trafficking by educating the public, partnering with anti-trafficking organizations and investing in aftercare for survivors. We use our space to introduce our customers to the concept of human trafficking with infographics and awareness events that provide a deeper understanding of the issue and it’s intersection with our lives and other social justice issues. Since opening our brick-and-mortar in 2015, we have served and educated over 80,000 unique customers and held over 350 awareness events. We also use our shop as a collaborative space with other anti-trafficking allies to be more strategic about this work and to connect our customers to the broader network of anti-trafficking initiatives. The profits generated by the coffee shop are directly invested to provide aftercare for survivors.
We recently launched Brazen Table, our culinary training program for survivors of human trafficking. This program works to empower survivors with basic job skills like resume writing and conflict management, paired with skills to enter and succeed in the culinary and hospitality industry. Finding and maintaining sustainable employment is often one of the largest barriers survivors face in the journey of restoration. Through Brazen Table, we are able to walk with survivors as they gain needed skills and experiences to overcome this economic hurdle and regain the life they were intended to have — free from exploitation.
Fighting human trafficking runs through everything we do as an organization, including our product sourcing. We use fair trade and ethically sourced ingredients wherever possible, knowing that not doing so would be exacerbating the problem of labor trafficking around the world. From coffee, sugar, tea and chocolate used in our drinks and pastries, to our wide array of merchandise that empowers high risk artisans globally, we model conscious consumption as an organization to encourage our customers and supporters to do the same.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
In 2010 I was working as a middle school science teacher in an under resourced community, teaching students who were often part of families who had immigrated to the US. That December I was sitting in church when I first heard of human trafficking. I was furious that it existed at all in the world, but I was also furious with myself for being unaware. I couldn’t shake the idea that human beings were being bought and sold like commodities.
The more I learned, the more I realized that the students who sat in my classroom everyday were highly vulnerable, due to their age, the under-resourcing of their communities, and their immigration status. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine what it would be like for them to be trafficked, but I could envision what their life might be like after experiencing trafficking. They would face seemingly insurmountable obstacles from a gap in education, lack of tangible work experience, potential criminal records obtained during exploitation limiting employment or housing opportunities, lack of access to resources, on top of the weight of the immense trauma they would inevitably be carrying. Their road would be nearly impossible to traverse.
I knew that I wanted to do something. And that something became a coffee shop that would educate and connect the community to walk alongside and empower survivors in their journey.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I don’t think there’s a final trigger. I think there’s an everyday trigger, or sometimes an every five minutes trigger. The first step is not the hardest — that one is pretty easy. The hardest step is the 59th and the 377th and 793rd. The step after you make a big mistake or the step into the darkness of the unknown. Those steps require more than inner strength and determination. Those steps require people behind you, believing in you, cheering you on, sacrificing their dollars and their time to support your passion. Those steps require people whose jobs, livelihoods, services depend on you mustering the courage and willpower to take them. And those steps require a little bit of stubbornness to not be bested by challenges or bad days. Perseverance is a strange beast that can’t be summoned by sheer force of will or the passion of an idea. It requires a whole lot more than that.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I read a lot of books and I talked to a lot of people. I had this grand idea to open a cutting-edge, non-profit coffee shop without ever having worked in a restaurant or in any kind of executive role in a non-profit. I had no idea what I was doing. My learning trajectory was unique given that I needed to learn about opening and running a restaurant while simultaneously learning about starting and running a non-profit organization and deepening my understanding of the field of human trafficking. I read books like “Opening a Coffee Shop for Dummies” and attended workshops on how to open a restaurant. I talked with roasters and began cupping coffee to gain a more thorough understanding of the product I would be selling. I set myself up in coffee shops in locations all over the city to understand everything from their target market and sales trends to their menu and pricing. I retired from teaching to work in a coffee shop kitchen to understand the ins-and-outs of back of house management in a restaurant. I met with a non-profit consultant to brainstorm ideal board make-up. I talked to non-profit leaders about the value of my idea in the current field of anti-trafficking work. I watched documentaries. I read books. I had to do a lot of learning (and I’m still doing it) to do this work most effectively.
Starting something like A 2nd Cup requires a certain balance of pride and humility. Pride that forces you to push as hard as you can to ensure you don’t fail. And humility in knowing that you don’t know everything and have much to learn from others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One day as I was working in the shop a friend of mine came over and asked if she could introduce me to someone. This happens semi-regularly, so I wasn’t at all taken aback. I sat down across from a woman, probably in her mid-twenties who just began to weep in front of me. I waited a few minutes as she wiped her eyes and re-composed herself to make the introduction. She said she had been coming to A 2nd Cup for a while and wasn’t sure what it was that kept drawing her back. But on her visit today she began reading the information on our walls and realized that she was who this information was about. She had been trafficked. She began thanking me for having a space like this. She was so grateful to see so many people who cared about what she had been through. Who cared about her. I haven’t seen her in the shop since, but I am so thankful that our humble space could help someone realize their innate value to the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The first four years of A 2nd Cup were mobile — packing up my little Mazda3 with all the coffee shop accoutrements, setting up a pop-up coffee shop all over Houston, serving coffee and educating people about human trafficking. During these four years I searched high and low for the perfect property to build our shop. I think I looked at every single available retail space in the entire city before I found the perfect space — a building I drove by every single day and owned by the church where I first learned about human trafficking. All of that searching and the perfect space had been under my nose the entire time.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My husband is first and foremost my biggest cheerleader. In fact, he even got an official name badge with “Chief Cheerleader” etched below his name. I can guarantee that A 2nd Cup would not exist without him cheering me (and sometimes pushing me reluctantly) forward.
I was also incredibly lucky to meet Matt Toomey, roaster extraordinaire, early on in my journey. He was really excited about the mission of the organization and has been incredibly supportive over the last 9 years.
A 2nd Cup would not be where it is today without the friendship, encouragement and gifts of Michelle Coffey, founding board member and genius behind our brand. The early work she put in to create our brand from scratch, and her constant presence guiding our growth, has been invaluable.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One of my favorite stories about awareness involves a customer who learned about human trafficking in the very early days of our shop — before we had a brick-and-mortar location. As he learned, he was compelled to move to Cambodia to do anti-trafficking work full-time. After a couple of years, he came back to Houston to spend some time working in our brick-and-mortar shop to learn enough to take his experience back to Cambodia to open a coffee shop that would employ survivors of trafficking.
Learning about trafficking and taking action is great, but having the opportunity to walk with survivors is awesome. One of the recent graduates from Brazen Table, our culinary training program for survivors, is Kellie — mother of 3 and trafficked at the age of 15 in California. She excelled in the program. In an interview with People Magazine, Kellie said of the program “It makes me feel empowered — it makes me feel like other people care…Brazen Table taught me that no matter your past, your circumstances, your life experiences, you can still prosper and grow past those things. Take those things and make them strengths instead of weaknesses.” Along with other participants, Kellie expressed a desire to continue her involvement with the program to help support other survivors who have been through similar trauma that she experienced.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Vote! Human trafficking happens in part due to the greed and depravity of traffickers. But human trafficking also happens because individuals are placed in desperate situations — poverty, discrimination, systemic racism, lack of access to resources all create vulnerabilities to trafficking. Human trafficking can only be prevented if we, as a society, eliminate these things that result in desperation.
Consume Consciously! Many products we consume have exploitation and trafficking in their supply chain. We need to look at our consumption and ask the hard questions about why our goods are so cheap and convenient. As consumers, we can work to fight labor trafficking by choosing to consume consciously, evaluate the supply chains of the things we buy, and put pressure on corporations utilizing exploited labor.
Give! There are organizations all over the world working to prevent human trafficking and supporting survivors. This work is hard and expensive as a result of the complex trauma experienced by victims. I can guarantee that all of these organizations need financial resources to do their work and giving financially is the very best way to support them.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You won’t feel that passion forever. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still care passionately about this issue and the lives of survivors, but that fire that made it feel like I was going to explode from the inside out only peeks out every now and again these days. You need a whole lot more than fiery passion to push through the harder days.
- Be patient. At my first board meeting, I naively told my board that we would open our revolutionary coffee shop in 6 months. Four years later we had our grand opening. I was really impatient in those four years, frustrated that things weren’t falling into place, that funds were not pouring in, and that the real estate market was just terrible. But the timing ended up being perfect, allowing us to gain experience with coffee and a following of supporters so that when we opened up shop we had folks waiting hours just to get a latte.
- You can’t do everything. I am independent and I like control. These traits do not bode well for someone in my position. I quickly burned myself out with the need to shoulder the entire burden of running the organization. After 6 years, we hired an Operations Director and it was a whole new world. I learned to prioritize the tasks that required my specific skill set and strengths and delegate tasks in a way that allowed others to do the same.
- Value your time. A 2nd Cup is kind of a novel idea and people are really intrigued by it. I get asked frequently to consult, or speak for an event, or to sit down for a cup of coffee so that someone can hear about my journey. I’ve always really loved this aspect of my role, but I’m also not made of time. With two little kids, I have to prioritize and focus my efforts on the things that will move our organization forward.
- This is going to be a marathon, don’t burn yourself out. When you start something, you feel like you have to jump on every single opportunity in front of you to get your name out there, and gain support, and make connections. I did just that. And I burned out. Burnout is really hard to recover from and is always lurking behind that one late night, or that last email you have to send before you go to sleep, or that meeting you just need to squeeze into an already busy day. It’s important to pace yourself and take care of yourself to be successful in this work.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I am a firm believer that everyone has something positive to give to the world. I think a lot of people find the world’s problems overwhelming and insurmountable and feel paralyzed in even knowing where to start. But you can start small. Find one organization to volunteer with or donate to. Find one change you can make in your life that benefits someone other than yourself. My family really loves chocolate, so we chose to start only purchasing chocolate if it is certified fair trade. That was our first step and we moved forward from there. The more you give back the greater your desire will be to do more.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Well, this is probably cheating, but I would love to have coffee with Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — the three founders of the Black Lives Matter. I mean, talk about powerful women — these three created a movement that is ripping the scales from our eyes; forcing us to finally confront the ways our nation has oppressed black and brown communities. They are changing the world. Right now. And I would love to buy them a cup of coffee, listen to their stories, and thank them for their work.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website www.a2ndcup.com is a great place to find out about our organization, the work we’re doing, the events we have, our great merchandise, and our latest shop specials. We can also be found on Facebook and Instagram @a2ndcup
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!