David Robinson (rear center), with his seven children, mother Rachel Robinson (front left) and wife Ruti Robinson (front right), taken in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
David Robinson (rear center), with his seven children, mother Rachel Robinson (front left) and wife Ruti Robinson (front right), taken in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The light was still gray from a sun not yet fully risen. A slight mist blurred the line of 16 men as we walked single file along the trail leading into the forest on the outskirts of the village. 

From my position at the end of the line, I could half see and clearly consider the diversity of people before me. We were men of five Tanzanian tribes, and my son and I were from the African American diaspora. 

Carrying axes, picks, shovels, and hoes, we of different origins walked towards a single place and purpose: to clear the forest and establish my family鈥檚 farm. 

Both the sights and the feel of that morning inspired our farm鈥檚 name, Sweet Unity. The year was 1990.

In 1947, my father, Jack Robinson, broke the stranglehold of segregation in the American national pastime of baseball, creating progress for his family, his race, and the American society as a whole. His victory empowered generations of African Americans to expand our vision for survival and development into all aspects of society.

Twenty years later, in 1967, when I was 15 years old, Jack and Rachel Robinson created the unique opportunity for their son to travel to Africa to see and experience the continent of our ancestors and the homeland of our race鈥檚 great human and material wealth.

In the 1980s, as the African American struggle began to expose the international nature of some of our problems and potential solutions, I returned to Tanzania in an effort to utilize the gift my parents had given me and the potential of our African resources.

Coffee became my focus.

After long months of discussion, a community of third generation Tanzanian coffee farmers invited my family to join their village and their efforts in developing sustainable and profitable farming initiatives.

Although coffee originated in Africa, farmers of African descent have been excluded from and exploited by the billion-dollar coffee industry. We invest our land, expertise, and labor to grow coffee but are isolated from the tables of business where coffee prices and profits are determined. We have not invested in the production facilities where our raw coffee is turned into finished coffee products with the value added to generate developmental income and economic growth. While others dominate the international coffee industry, we remain laborers and consumers only.

One of the objectives of our initiatives in Africa has been to explore and learn the potentials and challenges in agricultural production and global processing of goods for sale to the international community.

We intentionally established ourselves as medium/small-scale farmers, as are 95% of Tanzania鈥檚 annual coffee crop producers. 

We work strategically as members of cooperatives and in partnership with our neighbors because such cooperatives hold the organizational potential to consolidate the production of Tanzania鈥檚 over 400,000 family-owned farms and prepare such production in the volumes necessary to enter the international coffee trade.

In the 1990s, our coop grew from its initial 47 members to several hundred. In 1998, we purchased hand-powered coffee pulping machines to be shared by members. In this new century, we have imported and operated two diesel-driven coffee pulping machines and built the related facilities to collectively process the highest-quality coffee grown on small鈥攁nd medium-scale family-owned farms.

As the decades passed, our next generation grew. Our children began to study and work in America. They were rooted in their African upbringing and absorbed an understanding of their American history and community.

Today, our daughter Meta Robinson leads our U.S. operations, and our daughter Rachel Robinson brings international expertise to our cooperative鈥檚 coffee consolidation and export administration. 

Working in America as coffee roasters and sellers of finished coffee products, we offer our coffee products to corporations and individual consumers through E-commerce. 

We have launched a new initiative to seek wholesale/retail partnerships with social, civil, and faith-based organizations to broaden the number of people enjoying fine African coffee and the number of American institutions engaging in and benefiting from global direct trade with African and African American farmers.

To learn more about our work, please visit www.sweetunitycoffee.com.

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