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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Freedom Blend Coffee closes, former employees cite owner's reaction to Black Lives Matter

The coffee shop, which has locations in Des Moines and Clive, posted to social media Tuesday to announce they would be "temporarily closing."

A cup of coffee has often represented people coming together and discussing differences. 

But now, former employees of Freedom Blend Coffee feel the owner's current brew is divisiveness.

Freedom Blend Coffee is owned by the Christian nonprofit Freedom For Youth Ministries, which empowers Iowa youth in primarily communities of color.

Jerry Ziaty, a 24-year-old Black man, said it was a big part of his life growing up.

"It used to be a safe haven for us," Ziaty said. "A safe place where we could come as brothers and sisters of all race." 

Ziaty added, "I was the first person to donate money to the coffee shop."

Bagat Anyang, 20, of Des Moines, said he worked at Freedom Blend Coffee until last week. He noted that the coffee shop's website, as well as the website of the nonprofit, features images of people of color.

"Everywhere you go, to advertise Freedom, you see a Black person in the picture or video," Anyang said.

Both Ziaty and Anyang feel their diversity wasn't being cherished, but exploited.

The coffee shop, which has locations in Des Moines and Clive, posted to social media Tuesday to announce they would be "temporarily closing."

"The Freedom for Youth work training program is designed to deliver Christ-centered employment training and essential life skills that produce development, restoration, and hope for youth of every race," the post read. "We look forward to reopening when we are able to accomplish that objective again."

The closure took place following an emotional staff meeting. 

Several former employees told Local 5 that the owner of the coffee shop and Executive Director of Freedom for Youth Ministries, Mark Nelson, asked staff to take down a Black Lives Matter sign that management had put up. 

While Nelson would not comment directly to Local 5, staff said Nelson told them the sign represented values that were "un-Christianlike."

Anyang said he is Muslim, but it didn't make sense to him.

"Christians follow the way of Christ which is to love everybody no matter what, which way or form they come," Anyang said. "So for him to say that, I just felt like he was contradicting himself."

The coffee shop's former general manager, Eric Posthuma, said the sign was originally approved by Nelson and signed by staff at a prayer service after the death of George Floyd. Nelson even spoke at the event.

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"[The event was] a declaration that Black lives do matter and they matter to Jesus and I believe the Bible would also uphold that," Posthuma said.

But the ex-employees stated that Nelson seemed to change his tune about the sign, and at the meeting when he expressed his disapproval, Anyang quit. 

Other employees walked out too.

As for some others?

"I was just told that my employment was terminated," Posthuma said. "I was not given a reason."

Nelson declined an interview with Local 5, but Freedom for Youth Ministries issued the following statement:

We stand under only one banner, the banner of Jesus Christ, and answer the command to love your neighbor, whoever they are, in all cases. At Freedom for Youth that means empowering youth, through the love of Jesus Christ, to break out of their bondage, discover their God-given talents, and lead transformed lives. At Freedom for Youth and Freedom Blend Coffee, we always have and always will stand on the Word of God.

Ziaty doesn't think the statement makes sense.

"It's kind of like another tactic to show a Black group to just shut up and work and don't say nothing," Ziaty said. "Your voice doesn't matter."

Anyang and Ziaty have planned a peaceful protest for June 30.

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