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Dr. J is working to diversify the craft beer industry

J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham was named the American Brewers Association's first ever Diversity Ambassador in 2018.

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J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham
Contributed / American Brewers Association
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J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham is a former professor of communication studies who was appointed in 2018 as the Brewers Association's first ever Diversity Ambassador. A longtime fan and connoisseur of craft beer, Jackson-Beckham, known as Dr. J, wrote her dissertation on craft beer. She is working to diversify an industry that has historically been dominated by white men.

Dr. J was in Minneapolis the first week of May attending the Craft Brewers Conference and leading diversity, equity and inclusion workshops at the event. She is also the founder and executive director of Craft x EDU (pronounced “craft by E-D-U”), a nonprofit that promotes equity in craft brewing through education and professional development. The speaker, author, advocate and beer nerd took time to chat about her experience.

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How did you get interested in craft beer?

I have been a huge fan of craft beer since the 1990s. I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the brewing industry, so my professional work has been part and parcel of my professional and teaching work.

But how did I get hooked? There’s probably two or three things that put the hook in and it never really came out. First, most educators are lifelong learners. Craft beer is a good space for people who are curious. There are so many channels you can explore – geography, culture and folklore, chemistry, biology. If you’re the type of person who likes learning, craft beer has miles and miles of forums to explore and ultimately you’ll never reach the pinnacle of it.

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Second, I’m a foodie. I love exploring lots and lots of flavors and seeing how they pair and exploring new flavors and combinations of flavors.

Third and most of all, it’s a wonderful, wonderful community. If you talk to anyone in the industry, they are so open to sharing, and they want to learn about you too, what you have in common, what’s different. It’s almost always about sharing, whether it’s a pint, conversation, stories or experiences, people in the industry are just so open.”

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J. Jackson-Beckham, American Brewers Association diversity ambassador listens as Jon Rnthrope, brewmaster at Cajun Fire Brewing Co., of New Orleans, Louisiana speaks. Jackson-Beckham led a panel discussion about a film featuring Black craft beer business owners and industry leaders at the Craft Brewers Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday, May 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

The timing seems somewhat good in bringing you on board when now, after 2020, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, industries seem more committed to equity. Is that timing working in favor of your efforts?

“It’s hard to say whether the timing was good or bad, but 2020 brought more conversations about social justice and more people are ready to look at their roles in that. But it also brought more economic pressure on hospitality businesses. It is a good moment for people to have greater conversations not just about diversity, equity and inclusion, but being able to support the thriving of whole people. There are things that carry across the industry, staffing wellness, not just COVID but mental health, consumption. We’re just bringing all of that together in our work.”

Ale Sharpton (longtime craft beer journalist and blogger Dennis Malcolm Byron) said the crowd attending one of the diversity sessions, the screening of the film “One Pint at a Time,” was “progress” by the amount of people there interested in the film and the stories of Black people in brewing. Do you see progress in that crowd?

“In late 2018, I did my first CBC seminar and it was the only one about diversity at that conference. Monday, we had so many events and panels, we kind of had a conference within a conference. That evening we packed Arbiter (an Asian-owned brewery in Minneapolis) with an excellent discussion there with an excellent, diverse crowd. We covered cultural appropriation, burnout, how to serve different communities. If you’re just looking at what’s happened at the conference now compared to a few years ago, I call that progress. I think Ale’s right. Not just the size of the crowd. There’s much more representation in that crowd than we would have seen at conferences four or five years ago.”

Have your efforts and your message gotten much push back?

“Oh yes. Since day one. It comes with the territory. But you know what, that’s okay. You have to respect where people are at. You can’t force anyone to open their minds. My role is to help anyone who is willing to learn and listen.”

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That’s a healthy attitude.

“Yeah. You gotta take breaks from the internet too.”

Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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