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  • Writer's pictureJordan Green

Woman Co-Creates Non-Profit To Bring More People of Color into Wine Industry

Updated: 4 days ago

Jordan Green | WeINSPIRE Journalist

  • Dubose-Woodson is one of the co-founders of The Roots Fund.

  • She spent time traveling to foreign countries and working in Michelin-starred restaurants.

  • She never liked any kind of wine, but had a breakthrough with one wine and ended up having wine become a major part of her life.

7-Minute read

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A tall, glass bottle. A bitter taste. A lingering scent of grapes. These are some of the most common things a person pictures when they think of wine. What many people don’t think of is the lack of racial diversity in the wine community. Ikimi Dubose-Woodson started The Roots Fund along with Tahiirah Habibi and Carlton McCoy Jr. to allow people of color to have a fair chance at being a part of the wine industry.

Dubose-Woodson started her career in the food industry before she even entered college. Through the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), she was able to go to culinary school on scholarship at Johnson & Wales University. After culinary school, most graduates do a stage where they go work at a restaurant or hotel for a few nights and if they like you then they keep you. Instead of doing this, Dubose-Woodson followed a professor’s advice and decided to travel while learning about different cultures and cuisines.

“My instructor said, ‘You have a knack for international taste. You love to play with language, you're great with people. You should go travel and work at a place,’” Dubose-Woodson said.

And she did just that. Dubose-Woodson ended up traveling through Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Austria, Ireland and other parts of Asia and Europe. She spent her time at restaurants that were famous or Michelin-starred. She would go to the restaurants, introduce herself, tell them her experiences and ask for a job for a month or two. It was in these situations that Dubose-Woodson realized that she was attracted to learning about other cultures and people. Dubose-Woodson said, “I think that the best way to grow in this world today — because we're so afraid of difference — is to embrace other cultures and other people. So that's the biggest gain I got out of it, and it allowed me to adapt in basically any environment.”

Courtesy of Ikimi Dubose-Woodson.

After getting back to the United States, she continued to work in the restaurant industry. She worked as an executive chef before she got put to work in the dining room after a back surgery she had. It was there that she discovered she couldn’t stand wine. Every day at pre-shift meetings they would taste wine, and every day she didn’t like what they had to offer.

“Then one day I had a breakthrough,” Dubose-Woodson said. “We had an importer come in and pour wines from Burgundy. It changed my life. They were so drinkable, and I felt like I could taste the earth in them. Burgundy Pinot Noirs are funky, but I loved it.”

Yet, it wasn’t until years later that Dubose-Woodson and two peers would come together to create The Roots Fund in 2020. The main goal of The Roots Fund is to bring more people of color to the wine industry by helping them get an education in fields that are related to or can be used for wine companies. This could be marketing, accounting, agricultural studies or something along these lines.

“There was a lot happening in every space in 2020. Social injustice, the pandemic happening, super rise in Me Too Movement within the restaurant industry. It was a big time. A lot of things were being uncovered and exposed,” Dubose-Woodson said.

Since starting three years ago, the organization has grown to be about three times the size it was when it began. The organization has helped 196 people with its two-year STEP Program. There are 122 active members in the program. The Roots Fund also gives scholarships to students who are aiming to work in the wine industry after graduation. There is the general scholarship that students can apply for three times a year and the Atlanta scholarship for students based in Georgia.

Courtesy of Ikimi Dubose-Woodson.

Within their programs, they also place an emphasis on mentorship. When a person joins their study program, they are given a mentor that is someone who has been in the industry for years. The mentor will help educate them about the industry and help them network. The inspiration for this program comes from all of the co-founders’ careers being built from having great mentors.

“We're breaking down two sets of barriers,” Dubose-Woodson said. “It's not just about the advice and the network – it's also about breaking racial discrimination through people’s perceptions of others by actually working with someone, getting to know someone, and understanding their experience.”

One of the goals of The Roots Fund is to be completely transparent with where the money goes. As it relies mostly on donations, they make sure the people donating know exactly what their money is being used for. They are not opposed to switching projects around completely to make sure that the money is actually being used rather than just sitting around.

The biggest hope that Dubose-Woodson has for The Roots Fund’s future is that it continues to grow. She hopes to be able to introduce people of color to the wine industry and help them get jobs they didn’t know were possible. The Roots Fund is planning on expanding to HBCUs and high schools. With this, they are hoping to get people started in wine earlier rather than when they are in their 30s.

“I think that our legacy is already being written for just being an actionable person of change, not someone that's talking about it or making long PowerPoints and putting out newsletters and a bunch of stuff on our webpage,” Dubose-Woodson said. “People come to us because they feel like we actually do work. They actually see the work happening, and I think that's what sets us apart. That will be our legacy.”

Courtesy of Ikimi Dubose-Woodson.

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