A place for action
Blackbird lives up to community-building promise
The simplicity of Blackbird’s drink menu can be perplexing to the wayward Frappuccino fan or others who come in search of fancy coffee drinks.
“That’s why we had to make the ‘no espresso machine’ sign,” said Molly Roberts, pointing toward the message during a brief lull in a busy lunch shift at the cafe last week. “People are sometimes like, ‘I thought this was a coffee shop?’ Well, we are a shop that has coffee, but … it’s a type of place that some people get and some people don’t.”
In addition to hosting live music and having ample supplies of coffee, books and art, Blackbird is, at heart, an anarchist book store and community space, explained Roberts, who co-founded the business with Miles Montalbano and Christy Carter last October. Like other such establishments—she cited San Francisco’s Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative as an example—Blackbird is more dedicated to community-building and skill-sharing than to moving product.
“That was definitely our intention since we started talking about opening the place,” Roberts said. “We wanted to have the simple beverage bar because in Chico it would be hard to just have a space without offering something else. Plus, it’s also nice to be able to grab a drink while you’re planning shit.”
On the social and political organizing front, Blackbird has hosted volunteer recruitment events for seasonal winter shelter Safe Space and the 1078 Gallery. Other events include death cafes, a self-care workshop hosted by Rape Crisis Intervention and Prevention, and fundraisers for Women’s Health Specialists, a couple of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and groups like the J20 defendants. North Valley Prisoner Support holds a regular event on the second Thursday of each month (next one July 12, 6-7:30 p.m.), during which participants are invited to write letters to prisoners.
“[NVSP] came to us as soon as we opened and that’s been a great thing,” Roberts said, noting that the group usually draws 10 to 15 people. “People wonder if they have to know a prisoner they want to write to or if they’re just assigned one, but [NVSP] brings a list with information about why they’re in prison, and people can pick someone whose story they relate to. Or some people just look at who has a birthday that month and spend the time making cards for them.”
As for skill-sharing, there have been yoga classes and a number of herbal remedy workshops held at Blackbird, as well as a screen-printing workshop by Pedal Press and craft nights hosted by local artist and Blue Oak School educator Claire Fong (restarting on first Saturdays beginning in September).
Sherri Scott, of GRUB Grown Nursery and Farm, teaches the herbal remedy workshops with Blackbird co-founder Carter, and she holds semi-regular plant sales on the cafe’s back patio. In keeping with Blackbird’s model, Scott offers discounts for school and community gardens and groups dedicated to feeding the hungry.
“It’s a great addition to the neighborhood,” Scott said during a plant sale at Blackbird last week. “They provide a great space for the whole community, and I’m happy that they’ve been open to ideas I bring in. They’ve always said, ‘Go fo it!’”
Roberts said that she and her cohorts at Blackbird are eager to host more community events, as long as they’re dedicated to the free exchange of thought rather than selling a particular candidate or platform.
“We’re really open to anyone who wants to reach out, as long as it’s not for various campaigns or specific political candidates,” she said. “I mean, people can meet up here to discuss whatever they want, but we want to keep party politics out of events.
“Voting is important, but we’re more interested in helping people see that they can do things themselves, that they don’t have to wait on the government to make things better. People get very upset and angry about what’s going on in the world right now, but there are things we all can do, locally, to make a difference.”