On Monday evening, Tiffany Wright, a co-founder of the Coco Coalition, held a microphone at Alamar Kitchen & Bar in Oakland, in the middle of the coalition’s party. “We are here to love coco, right?” she asked. More than 50 people at the restaurant responded, “Yes!”
They were participating in the “Let’s Love Coco” fundraiser to launch the new coalition. Coco Coalition is a social enterprise dedicated helping women of the African diaspora to connect, grow and thrive. These women “might have different cultural practices and languages,” said Wright. “So, the idea of the coalition is that we are bringing all women of the African diaspora together. We address mental, emotional and social issues that are faced by them.”
Wright was moderating the event with Mimo Haile and Jasmine Thompson, who co-founded the organization. They each have their own roles—Wright is a creative lead, Haile does community relations and Thompson is a brand strategist. The word “coco” is widely used to refer to a black woman in a sweet way, according to the founders. “When you are speaking with or engaging with people of African diaspora, they are like, ‘Oh, you are so coco,” said Haile.
“Sometimes black women refer to their skin in terms like chocolate or caramel—just in playful language, so to speak,” added Wright. “That’s where coco comes from. And the coalition is basically the sum of all of those coco aspects.”
Coco Coalition was created in January as a response to the increased popularity of the Black & Beautiful Women’s Bruch, an event started by Wright and Haile in 2015. The brunch aimed provide a safe space for women who identify with the African diaspora to share fellowship over food while discussing issues that affect their lives and wellbeing as black women. Each brunch had specific agenda, such as mental health and sisterhood. “It’s more of a workshop than just a social eating experience,” said Wright. They hosted the brunch events throughout different cities including Oakland, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
“We decided that we really wanted to expand the resources and offerings that we are able to give to the women,” said Haile. “So, we decided to come together and establish the organization to curate similar events like the brunch.” As an umbrella organization, Coco Coalition will host more diverse events such as conferences and retreats.
The enterprise’s mission is to create safe and empowering opportunities for women, while also addressing health and educational barriers faced by teen girls. “What we are also hoping is that, we give back to young black girls,” Haile said. The founders said that they hope to host conferences, provide scholarships, offer mentorship programs and donate resources to young women through other organizations.
The Coco Coalition makes money through events such as fundraisers or brunches. “We also have merchandise—T-shirts, pens and bags, along our mission,” said Thompson. The organization displayed their merchandise at the event, such as bags that read “MY BLACK IS ENOUGH.” They also sold tickets to a raffle featuring donated items from local businesses.
The group also recently started an “ambassador program,” which cultivates members in different cities to keep up connections with people who need support, an idea they borrowed from running the Black & Beautiful Women’s Brunch. If women in a city want to get together, the ambassadors can curate an event there, without having to wait for the founders to arrange one. “We have about 5 ambassadors in cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles,” said Haile. They are planning to have more ambassadors across the country.
Thompson said that they think the most important need that women and girls face is mental, social and emotional well-being. The Coco Coalition will focus on the theme of “black and healthy” this year, and they are planning to host a conference on this theme in Oakland in September.
“There are intergenerational issues that have happened within the African or African American community,” said Haile, noting that people in the community suffer from stress that stems from racism, microaggressions, police brutality and gun violence. “There are also health disparities like mental health—a lot of people want to seek counseling but are unable to afford it,” she said. “It stems from not being educated enough about the resources that are out there and then also not having enough resources.”
Three of the founders are UC Davis alumni and all of them work in social services in their daily jobs. Haile said that the Coco Coalition is their “passion project.”
“We believe that there’s more power in unity as opposed to segregation,” Wright said at the event. “You have your own sense of cultural pride or geographical pride or whatever. We are all connected. And that’s the meaning of having a Coco Coalition.”