When Catrice hixon decided to open a cafe in the town of Opelika, Southern Alabama, she knew she wanted it to serve three purposes: to educate, inspire and unite.
Education and inspiration are built into the Melanin Café offering of coffee, smoothies and pastries. Each of the 38 drinks on the menu is named after a prominent historical black figure. But not the ones we all read and hear from childhood.
There is the “Big Bank”, named after the businessman and investor. Bernard S. Garrett; the “Sci-Fi”, paying homage to Octavia Butler; “The Resistance”, in honor of Geronimo Pratt, and many others.
“I wanted to introduce people we don’t really know, people like inventors, scientists and doctors,” Hixon recount American News and World Report.
“I just want to put all of these people front and center so we know who they are and what they have contributed to this country. It will inspire us to do things because representation matters. If we don’t see people who look like us doing different things, we’re not really inspired.
Beyond inspiration, Hixon also shares Alabama’s not always pretty story: one menu item is a green smoothie called Kowaliga, named after a long lost African-American community. The town of Kowaliga, AL, which housed the first black-owned railway, was flooded in 1926 during the construction of the Martin Dam. It now sits at the bottom of Lake Martin.
The unity she hopes to bring to Opelika is rooted in space and people. It is easy for her to create a feeling of family for the guests as the Melanin Café is run entirely by the family. Every day, Hixon works alongside her husband Jakyra and her sister Crystal slaughter. Hixon says she wants the cafe to be “inviting and relaxing”; as long as she doesn’t even care if visitors buy something. You can even learn the meaning of Melanin Cafe drinks without visiting the shop, by checking out the Culture Corner on the store’s website.
“I just want this place to educate people, inspire people and bring everyone together,” she explains. “If we get to know each other, we can coexist with each other. “