Profiles in brew: Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham

The Brewers Associations’ first diversity ambassador

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Brewers Association

“I want you to stop thinking about diversity,” Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham told the crowd at 2019’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in early April in Denver. “I want you to stop thinking about counting faces, or what people look like, and I want you to start thinking about inclusion, equity and justice.”

It wasn’t what the audience expected to hear, but the more the Brewers Association’s first diversity ambassador talked, the more it clicked. Diversity, she urged, wasn’t the process, it was the end product — “a model of social stability.”

Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, Ph.D. — most call her Dr. J. — is a writer, teacher, artist, homebrewer and, as of April 24, 2018, diversity ambassador for the Brewer’s Association (BA). Like the other BA ambassadors — retail chain (Tom McGinty), sustainability (Matt Gacioch), draft beer quality (Matt Meadows and Neil Witte) and safety (Matt Stinchfield) — Dr. J. is a valuable resource for BA members. From her guide, Diversity Best Practices, to speaking engagements, Dr. J. can help brewers and breweries make their spaces more inclusive while coming to diversity on their terms.

“Breweries, the individuals who run them and the communities they serve are all unique,” Dr. J. tells Boulder Weekly. “Thus, the challenges and opportunities they are tackling or hoping to tackle are all pretty different.”

“I believe diversity is an end state,” she explains. “So the question is, naturally, ‘How do we get there?’ I believe that inclusion, equity and justice are the how.”

At CBC, Dr. J. illustrated this process with a graphic: three people of varying height standing next to a bar top 5 feet tall. As she explained, inclusion invites everyone to the bar, but not everyone can reach their drinks. So, equity is employed, and those who are shorter are given something to stand on. But, helping hands often draw ire from those who require no assistance, thus her solution, justice: cut the bar in half, and now everyone can reach the top and enjoy a pint.

“The business imperative [for] diversification is real and should be taken seriously,” Dr. J. says. “Craft beer as an industry is maturing, and the pie isn’t getting bigger at a fantastic rate anymore. But many, many firms are entering the marketplace hoping to cut themselves a slice. Growing craft beer’s fan base is just common sense. Likewise, it makes sense to grow in areas where there is lots of opportunity.”

And though there is a financial incentive to diversification, Dr. J. urges brewers to look beyond transactional benefits. There’s a world of opportunity in the craft beer community, and, as Dr. J. sees it, that opportunity is social sustainability.

“Socially sustainable communities,” she said at CBC, “whether neighborhoods or neighborhood breweries, are equitable, connected, democratic, diverse and contribute to community resilience.”
It’s the mindset that shifts diversity and inclusion “from transactional to transformative.”

The BA’s Diversity Best Practices guide and Dr. J’s upcoming speaking engagements can be found at brewersassociation.org/best-practices/diversity-best-practices.