USA: Molson Coors acquiring minority stake in North Carolinas TRU Colors Brewery
Molson Coors Beverage Company is acquiring a minority stake in its latest craft brewery and this one is extraordinarily unique: its managed and staffed almost entirely by active gang members, Forbes reported on April 14.
TRU Colors Brewery, located in Wilmington, North Carolina, started in 2017 with the mission to reduce gang violence in the beach town. Serial entrepreneur George Taylor, who co-founded and headed the Untappd digital beer check-in platform, was catalyzed to launch TRU Colors by watching a news story about a drive-by gang murder in his hometown.
I was pretty comfortably unaware. I didnt even know we had gangs in Wilmington, says the white 60-year-old.
Driven to understand how someone could carelessly shoot up a populated street, Taylor asked the local district attorney to introduce him to the areas top gang leaders. Over the following few years, he traveled the country to get to know more affiliates, as gang members at TRU Colors call themselves, and hired a few to work at Untappd. His discovery that gangs originally formed to protect and serve disempowered neighborhoods and not to sell drugs and commit acts of violence led him to launch TRU Colors. TRU stands for Truth, Responsibility and Unity.
In turn, TRU Colors has led 55 gang members like Juan Press Bethea to commit to a full-time brewery job with a middle-class salary and benefits and the homeownership and stability they can provide. More important, though, is the primary lesson they learn to cast off the self-certainty they carry that their lives will inevitably end in prison or an early grave.
29-year-old Bethea, an original employee who works as director of brewing operations while holding on to his high status in a set of the infamous Bloods gang, says, I have a legitimate way to provide for my family. I know I would be in jail (otherwise). It makes me sad that I had that mindset but now some people I may have terrorized in the past, they know I work at the brewery and they say, Keep up the good work.
Its Taylors commitment to cultivating this type of deep social change along with his success starting nine businesses that draws Molson Coors to him and his team of gang members. The conglomerate is buying an undisclosed share of the company, which will distribute exclusively through the Molson Coors network as it begins to sell across North Carolina, Virginia and soon, they hope, to at least 40 states. Paul Verdu, vice president and head of Molson Coors Tenth and Blake craft division, says investing in TRU Colors continues his companys mission to dramatically increase diversity and inclusion in brewing.
For a long time the reality has been of white men brewing beer for white drinkers, he says. Weve got to change that.
Even though Bethea says he initially applied for his brewing job for the money and not for any particular feeling toward beer or betterment for himself or others, he confronted the industrys homogeneous reality quickly after getting hired as the first brewer. Not satisfied to be stagnant waiting around for someone to train me, the African-American two-time convicted felon with no previous brewing or craft beer experience spent two years offering himself as an unpaid intern at various unfamiliar and predominantly white breweries to learn the trade.
One of the hardest things I had to do was swallow my pride and go to other breweries to ask for help, he says. I had to fill that knowledge gap.
As of late 2020, Brian Faivre, longtime former brewmaster at Oregons influential Deschutes Brewery, oversees Bethea and his brewing team. But the fact that Bethea forced himself way out of his comfort zone shows that TRU Colors intense onboarding process and development training works.
New employees usually rival gang members start in cohorts of about a dozen, getting paid an annual $30,000 and full benefits from day one. They go through two months of boot camp followed by a $5,000 annual raise and a three-month internship in a brewery department that interests them. But instead of learning about hops and grains, they spend much of boot camp partnered with rivals they dont know, like or trust, learning how to resolve conflict and believe in themselves, often for the first time.
Most folks coming into TRU Colors have a very short term view of their future, says Taylor. At first, we focus on getting everyones head around the fact they can and deserve to be happy. Then everyone gets to know each other and see commonalities like, This guys got kids like I do, hes got hopes and dreams like I do.
No guns enter the building and Chief People Officer Khalilah "KO" Olokunola says theyve never had any incidents, though Taylor describes the first few days as full of usually very loud discussions as men (no women have answered recruitment calls yet) who grew up tough confront their biases, fears and limiting beliefs about themselves and one another.
As training proceeds, candidates, as theyre called at that stage, learn experientially and collaboratively how to stabilize their lives in the arenas of communication, relationships, finances, housing and transportation. All the while, theyre being taught how to turn their street smarts into business skills that they can apply to the brewery itself as well as the recording studio, TV production unit, fitness and wellness centers or community engagement space Taylor plans to build out.
Even though we dont necessarily hire for skills there are skills there skills from the block to apply to the boardroom, says Olokunola. If somebody was really good at understanding products, marketing, their target audience, we give them the fortitude to be disciplined and have drive for their lives.
The seven or eight cohorts that have passed through so far do comprise a somewhat self-selecting group to begin with. To recruit, Olokunola asks her gang-affiliated co-workers for recommendations then goes out to find them and others in, as she says, the court house, the trap house, the jail house.
Prospective hires show up for a scheduled open house then go through a weeks-long interview and vetting period. They get credit for showing initiative, say, by reaching out to talk with existing employees in their departments of interest, and Olokunola says they select applicants who demonstrate influence, resilience and grit.
Taylor says about 80% make it through training; most of those who dont get let go within the first two weeks for being late; for just one second for just one time. Those who dont last can reapply 90 days later. Once the successful candidates complete their two-month training, they have just one more obligation before getting their internship they have to jump out of an airplane.
The second their feet hit the ground their salary goes to $35,000, Taylor says.
So far around 65 affiliates have completed their internship, been formally hired and received pay commensurate with their position. But the personal development doesnt stop.
Employees get drafted into tribes'' every six months, led by employee-coaches who rotate just as often. They compete and collaborate on community projects and earn wins, bragging rights and a trophy for achievements like getting off parole, buying a car, volunteering or hosting a community town hall meeting.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says, TRU Colors message of unity has brought people together and caused many in our city to reconsider their perspective on whats possible in the future.
Not only do affiliates communities benefit directly from the greater number of men setting positive examples for themselves and everyone else, they also reclaim a sense of pride in their native sons who for too long may have acted in the stereotypically destructive ways that give gang members a negative and not entirely accurate rap.
Latiesha Cook, who runs the Black beer foundation Beer Kulture, has spoken with the TRU Colors team many times over the past few years.
She emails, Gang members where Im from (born and raised in the Bronx, NY) are the people who take care of the community. The neighborhood. They are the protectors of the youth. The providers when there is lack. They are the elders, the OGs, the ones who bring unity whenever there are disruptions in the neighborhood. Theyre more trusted where I come from than the police.
For his part, Bethea says hes ecstatic to earn a legitimate living for his two young kids and spends a lot of effort encouraging his friends and neighbors to parent their own children in constructive ways. And by taking a central part in this story, hell have one particular proud moment to share for the rest of their lives.
Is this the Forbes that writes about the billionaires? he asked at the end of his interview, a grin slowly spreading across his face as he considered his upcoming coverage in the prestigious international publication. I thought I had to be a rapper or entertainer or a rich white guy to get in Forbes.
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