86 The Barrier Launches, Offering Peer-Led Language Classes For Immigrant Hospitality Workers

Although 2020 undeniably rocked our industry with mandated safety lockdowns & quarantines, there are some bright sides to look towards as some people have used their time in quarantine to work on some remarkable new programs. Recently launched, 86 the Barrier is a grassroots organization offering free, peer-led language learning for immigrant hospitality workers. Their mission is to, “de-colonize language in hospitality so that all workers, regardless of background, have equal access to professional growth and financial independence.”

Co-Founders Joanna Carpenter and Cameron Shaw were inspired to start 86 the Barrier after a virtual coffee at the end of April. Carpenter shares, “We talked about how the folx who are the very foundation of the restaurant industry are the first ones to be left behind in times of crisis. We talked about how racist the industry is, especially when it comes to promoting and creating safe spaces for workers of color. When it comes to ambition, potential and skills, there is no difference between a high-income bartender and the guy on a menial hourly in the back – the barrier to growth is the English language. I came back to her a couple of days later with the concept of an emergency Covid-response language crash course for furloughed non-English-speaking folx who will soon be trying to find work in an oversaturated, prejudiced job market; it turned out that she had been working on a similar organizational idea for a couple of years already. Between the sense of urgency brought on by the pandemic and the ability to see further down the road, we were able to join forces at the beginning of May, and here we are. With copious amounts of coffee.”

Joanna Carpenter talks about 86 the Barrier (continued below)

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Hey, world! 86 the Barrier has officially landed on the ā€˜gram, and we are so excited to be taking up space in your feed. šŸ¤“šŸ‘‹šŸ» Our mission is to de-colonize language in hospitality so that all workers, regardless of background, have equal access to professional growth and financial independence. Keep up with us here so you can meet our teachers and leadership team, get info about our mutual aid fund, and to find out more about how you and your coworkers can get involved. Want to get in touch? Have questions? hello@86thebarrier.com / hola@86thebarrier.com (Huge shout out to @carrieonwriting for working with us to craft our logo!) . . . #86theBarrier #86tB #hospitality #restaurants #bar #barlife #kitchen #cook #decolonize #language #spanish #education #community #equality #uplift #bethechange #cocktails #foodstagram #drinkstagram #grassroots #newyork #nyc

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What went into the launch of 86 the Barrier to ensure the appropriate tools and systems were put into place to accomplish the work of your mission?

Language is as much a weapon as it is a tool. There are innate biases and heady racism in hiring, training, and promoting non-native English speakers in hospitality, which leads directly to a morbidly unfair income disparity. We knew going in that there are a lot of heads on the hydra when it comes to the intersectionality of racism, language bias, sexism, classism, and shame working against so many in our community. “The work” is actually ongoing. Like anti-racism work, it’s a lifelong commitment. But I think we are on a mission to constantly learn and evolve in a nimble, empathetic way. We just did a massive overhaul on our curriculum, we changed some uses of language based on feedback from our team, and Cameron and I are also personally committed to becoming fluent in Spanish.

Our commitment to our partners and compaƱeros (we don’t use the words “teachers” or “students” anymore) is to take our existing knowledge, skills, and empathy and use that as a launchpad to learn as much as we can about how best to be of service. From a technical standpoint, we built our curriculum entirely around the restaurant model, caring far less about perfect grammar and far more about making sure a compaƱero feels confident navigating a job interview with an English speaker. We wanted to meet our compaƱeros where they are technologically, emotionally, culturally and support them in any way we can. Cameron always makes it clear that not speaking English fluently isn’t something to fix – it’s something to honor in order to help provide our community with equalizing tools.

Who is part of the inaugural launch team?

We were so excited to have the chance to build a leadership team that reflects the diversity of our industry, and we were joined by three incredible women: Stephanie Ortiz, Nicole Menezes, and Sherley Mejia. All three of these women are utter powerhouses, all coming from vastly different backgrounds, and they have all been instrumental in working with Cameron and me to build this thing. We also work with an inspiring team of partners, who are going to be digging into the language work with our compaƱeros: Luis Hernandez, Leonel Cazares, Giselle Alvarez, Roberto Rosa, Rachel Wasserman, and Amanda de la Nuez. Cameron and I are inspired on a daily basis by every single one of these people.

Who will benefit most from this? How do they take advantage of the opportunity with 86 the Barrier?

In the short term, our compaƱeros will see the immediate benefit of developing essential language skills and confidence. However, language affects culture, and we are envisioning a true equalization within our industry community in the long term. High tides raise all ships, and we want to see our communities across the country and the industry as a whole take on decolonization of language as an opportunity for achievement for all.

How will you define success for the program?

We want the English language to no longer to be weaponized to hold back a hospitality worker. The goal in the short term is to establish measurable impact in New York City, and expand to the West Coast in 12-ish months. The long, LONG term goal is for 86 the Barrier to become a source of a language efficacy and equality certification, and to operate as linguistic educational partners to restaurants and bars in multiple cities across the US. In other words, we are aiming to break down and rebuild the systems that keep hospitality so inequitable for communities of color.

What can we expect next for the future of 86 the Barrier?

We are moving into our second phase of learning, with a more clear, versatile curriculum in hand and excited to see how well our incoming (and existing) compaƱeros do with it. Cameron and I are also planning on taking on investors whose ethos and visions align with ours.

How can people get involved?

As studentsĀ – Our Instagram (@86theBarrier) has a link in our bio that will take potential compaƱeros to a simple intake form. We are monitoring responses daily and getting people started as quickly as we can. As teachers that same link also contains a partner intake form. As we grow, we will obviously need to bring on more partners. We do ask that any potential partner be bi-lingual in Spanish and English and have experience working in hospitality. Prior English language teaching experience is not necessary.

As sponsors/supporters – this is a big one – we just launched our mutual aid fund! We are accepting donations via Venmo (@MutualAid86tB) and CashApp ($MutualAid86theBarrier). Contributions will go directly to our participants, many of whom have been hit hard by Covid-19. One of our biggest goals is to get everyone need-based financial aid, so any donations readers send will have an immediate impact. We also have a living database for public view that documents each contribution and disbursement (with names protected for safety), so folx can see exactly where the money is going. We also understand that times are tough, so if readers cannot donate, we do appreciate the word being spread in whatever way possible!

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