By any means necessary. That’s what Means Cameron’s name means, but it’s also his unspoken operational credo. The owner and founder of BlaCk Coffee Lounge and the adjacent BlaCk OWned apparel store, Cameron was born and raised in Cincinnati’s West End and on the West Side.
“I have good stories about both,” he says. “When you grow up in those kinds of environments, there are so many things that can take you under every day. But the fact that I’m sitting here with you right now, talking about coffee that’s going to be featured in a magazine, it’s a good story. Because if you were able to be there, to see the things that we witnessed as young kids, I think most people would be more moved to take action.”
Cameron decided to take his own action. Instead of getting “captured,” as he says, by the community and “love” that street life afforded, he wanted to pursue a different path, create a different kind of community. Business ownership was a paramount goal for the Miami University graduate. He opened BlaCk OWned in 2014.
“I felt like that was going to be the answer to these communities I’m talking about,” says Cameron. “If we own things in those communities, then we would have the resources to clean [them] up, make [them] better, rejuvenate, provide skills to people.”
Fashion is already closely associated with Black culture. But coffee—at least on the surface—may seem like an unexpected swerve.
“The coffee was just a whole other lane,” says Cameron. “I don’t think Black people see ourselves in coffee. But the statistics say we consume it. We’re consuming a lot of things, but we’re not profiting off of it. Coffee just felt right to be next door.”
Cameron credits a friend who was a “huge” coffee drinker with turning him onto the drink. He realized coffee consumption was a way for them to connect, and spent a lot of time in coffee shops.
“I realized how important these coffee shops were to all of the little communities they were in,” he says. “Like, everybody’s in the coffee shop, coming in like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, what’s up?’ So for me, with the mind I’ve had since I was a young boy, it was like, ‘Wait. All of these people are connecting. This is happening.’ ”
After spending two years in New Orleans, Cameron returned to Cincinnati more inspired than ever by the city’s coffee culture and itching to bring his own vision of a connected community to life. So when the space next to BlaCk OWned became available, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve never done anything half-assed,” Cameron says. “So when I was opening this, I had to take a step back and say, ‘You really got to do some training, some learning, dive deeper.’ Because I knew I already had the culture piece. But I didn’t know enough about coffee.”
“I try to only work with people my spirit tells me like, ‘This is it,’ ” he says. “What [Gaines] represented, what he wanted to do, help shops like mine with ideas like mine, it was right on. He was just a great guy. I found out a percentage of it is Black-owned—the roaster, Robert, is from Uganda. So I fell in love with their company.”
Cameron and his crew spent a year and a half on barista and coffee training and continued even after BlaCk Coffee opened in July 2019.
“This place was needed,” he says. “Where are all the young Black creatives, or minority creatives? Where do they hang out? Where do they go? We don’t have that place. So we wanted to create this place to be that. In 2019, we came out of the gate exactly like that. But then when COVID hit, it disrupted all of that.”
The shop weathered the pandemic, and when protests swept the nation in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, BlaCk Coffee’s community came out in full force, sponsoring Cincinnati’s Black Lives Matter street mural. Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in for a coffee on her first visit to Cincinnati.
BlaCk Coffee has quickly become part of the fabric of not only the Black community and the coffee community, but the broader Cincinnati community.
“I think our shop is the new energy in the room for Cincinnati coffee,” says Cameron. “That’s why we do well. You can go to 10 coffee shops in Cincinnati and they’re all going to have good coffee, but the vibe is going to be very similar. But then you come here and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. This is a different thing.’”
BlaCk Coffee Lounge, 824 Elm St., Cincinnati, (513) 802-5228