I first heard about Moji last spring. My friend Olivia Davis texted me excitedly one afternoon: “Guess what. There’s a coffee shop opening soon where I’m going to work.” Though Davis is of an age where she could work, she has had a hard time finding meaningful employment as she is developmentally disabled and uses a wheelchair. At this time, Moji Coffee + More was in its early stages of development. Davis couldn’t have known she would definitely get a job there. But that isn’t it what matters—what matters is the possibility.
Moji is a coffee shop opening at the end of 2018 at 690 Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem that will provide employment opportunities for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Its employees will be trained and paid, just as if it were any other coffee shop. Clearly, however, it is not just another trendy coffee shop opening downtown. Its mission sets it apart. As stated on Moji’s website, it is a “pathway for acceptance and opportunity … providing fulfilling employment to those who so often get taken for granted.”
The significance of Moji’s opening is twofold: it provides Winston-Salem with the chance to get better acquainted with a community that is often ignored and it offers meaningful and rich community for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities after they age out of school.
Part of my interest in Moji comes from my own closeness to the IDD community. My freshman year at Wake Forest, I volunteered a local event called Joy Prom, an annual prom for special needs individuals in Winston-Salem— a community that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with. Shortly after arriving at the event, however, any discomfort or awkwardness I felt around people with IDD was gone. I saw this community for what it was—one of joy and love and acceptance. As guests walk in, they’re paired with their date for the evening. From there, they’re free to visit the photo booth, eat snacks, play games, or visit Joy Prom’s main attraction—the dance floor. The dance room was full most of the evening as all ages danced to Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and One Direction. To observe this scene is to understand why this event is called Joy Prom. There was a smile on every face as each person danced without self-consciousness. People danced with strangers and friends alike, overcome by a sheer delight for life. Something I have always admired about the IDD community is how its members seem to be unencumbered by the inhibitions and awkwardness that sometimes keep us from fully enjoying a moment. This is what I saw on the dance floor of Joy Prom.
Since then, I have volunteered regularly with the IDD community through an organization called Young Life Capernaum. This is how I came to know Davis.
I first met Davis at the end of my freshman year. Having just started volunteering with Capernaum, I was unfamiliar with most of the faces in the small activity room of the Robinhood Road YMCA. Davis was one of the first people I talked to—quiet, but friendly and funny, her warm demeanor made me feel welcome in this new environment. As the afternoon progressed, the group playing games and singing, Davis stuck by my side. Since then Davis and I have been to movie nights and sleepaway camp trips together. I’ve painted her nails while she told me about her sisters. Throughout the week, Davis texts me to make sure I’m having a good day. She asks to see picture of my dog and my family. She is a deeply caring and kind friend.
Davis and her family, like many others I met through Capernaum, will soon face a difficult crossroads. Capernaum, like any North Carolina public school, graduates its members at age 22. After this, it is often difficult for families to discern the next move. There is no well-trodden path for those like Davis to follow. Most families must forge their own. Davis’ mother, Christy Davis, is on the board of Moji. She told me that Davis probably couldn’t work at Moji since she does not have full control of her fine motor skills, leaving a task like operating an espresso a difficult one. However, this didn’t stop Christy Davis from pursuing Moji’s vision. Though her own daughter may not able to work there, Christy Davis still recognizes the need for a more inclusive environment in Winston-Salem.
“It’s not just for my own kids. I think it’s important for more people to have contact with the special needs community,” said Christy Davis. “I hope it’s a reciprocal relationship for the IDD community and Winston-Salem in general.”
Christy Davis’ sentiment is what I believe Moji is really trying to capture. It will be good not only for the IDD community, but for everyone in Winston-Salem. Before my freshman year, I didn’t know anything about the community that would work at Moji, but volunteering in that community has added so much to my own life. I have received a kind and thoughtful friend in Davis, as well as a deeper understanding and richer appreciation for the IDD community.
President of the board, Tim Flavin, added to this: “We hope that Moji’s vision will spread, that more people will see everything these people have to offer, and maybe other businesses will start to hire more disabled individuals.”
Excitement for Moji has already spread throughout Winston-Salem, even though it isn’t open yet. Other local businesses, such as The Variable and Twin City Hive, have volunteered their help to get Moji off the ground.
Back in September, I attended a private coffee tasting at Moji to vote on the house blend. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable as soon as I walked in the door. Everyone there was excited to be moving one step closer to Moji’s opening.
When Moji opens, more people will have the opportunity to experience what I did at Joy Prom. As cups of coffee are served, people will encounter for themselves the joy and acceptance the IDD community has to offer.