Being vulnerable with a group of friends is relatively easy, but it can be challenging to be vulnerable with strangers and have difficult conversations about current topics on how people can live in the same community and still respect one another’s viewpoints.
Steve Mahr, owner of Old Factory Coffee Shop, hosted community conversations at the Old Factory twice a month last semester. There were about 20 to 30 people who showed up at each meeting, talking about how to handle racism in Sioux County and Northwest Iowa.
“I was trying to navigate as a white person in a mostly white rural area what my response is as a Christian and as somebody who believes that all people should be treated equally,” Mahr said. “There seemed to be a huge disparity as to who received justice in the country.”
Mahr became angry and frustrated with the injustice, and it seemed as though there was nothing he could do to help. After talking to some community members, he decided it would be a good idea to have conversations involving the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mahr started following the Black Lives Matter movement after Michael Brown was shot in August 2014.
“Maybe what fueled the protest and anger in Ferguson is boiling under the surface and I just don’t even know about it,” Mahr said.
The leaders of La Mosaic who came to participate in conversations really helped encouraged voices to be heard and the talk flourished. They were able to hear many stories that most of the community had not been able to access.“One thing that Steve stressed was to listen to everyone,” La Mosaic member Denise Cowherd said. “Whether you’re angry or you disagree, you still listen and you do so respectfully.”
The Di Murphy Multicultural Inspiration Award was named after Di Murphy who served at Northwestern as an education faculty member in the ‘70s. Murphy was involved with diversity efforts at NW.
Mahr was honored with this award during the Ethnic Fair this year, which has been given for the past ten years to someone the Intercultural Development staff members believe has made an inspirational contribution toward becoming a more multicultural friendly community.
“He models integration of his own educational and multicultural values into the work of the Old Factory Coffee Shop,” said Kevin McMahan, associate dean for Intercultural Development.
The Old Factory’s mission statement lines up with the goal to understand various cultures and lifestyles: “Our mission is to engage our reckless imaginations, to foster hope instead of fear, to rabble rouse apathy toward action, to acknowledge our sameness, celebrate our differences, and to cultivate an atmosphere of respect and vulnerability in which relationships can develop into a community that embodies love and peace.”
Mahr also hosted La Mosaic’s “One Love” event at the Old Factory as well as “Orange City Stories of Justice” slam poetry event this past January for Justice Week.
“For those who know Steve, it is clear that he is an inspiration, and a significant part of that is his multicultural vision,” McMahan said. “We felt that the way he integrates those values in an Orange City service and business context is particularly commendable.”
The Old Factory staff is open to any sort of conversation that would like to be held.
“We have always said that the community shapes what we become,” Mahr said. “We don’t say no unless we think something is destructive to the community.”
Mahr believes when we find truth in the matter, multiple voices attack the same question or idea, and that’s what the coffee shop tries to go for: Coffee, community and conversation.