President & Co-founder BD Imports, Founder & Board Chair of The Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity
Phyllis Johnson believes that her greatest strength is being persistent and simply understanding the value of working together. She attributes her learning this lesson at a young age, growing up in a large family in rural Arkansas, the eighth and youngest child. She along with her husband Patrick, co-founded BD Imports, a green coffee import company with established relationships working with farmers on the ground in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The company has established relationships with specialty coffee roasters of various sizes throughout the U.S. and Canada.
With 23 years of experience owning a coffee company, Phyllis is known for her commitment to gender equity. She led the formation of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) chapters in East Africa. She was instrumental in helping to secure funds and execute programs through a collaboration between the United Nations, International Trade Centre and the IWCA. She has used her voice at the highest levels of decision-making advocating for equity. She spoke at the World Trade Organizations and United Nations on the need to support women entrepreneurs in coffee. She has lived her values, her company often serves as the first buyer providing opportunities to numerous women entrepreneurs in coffee in countries such as Ethiopia, Brazil, Kenya, and Rwanda, engaging women entrepreneurs in its business relationships and part of its supply chain. The return on the investment made in women entrepreneurs pays great dividends in advancing local communities around the world. Women are indeed community builders.
Under her leadership, BD Imports has been recognized with numerous awards including, Responsible Business of the Year and Diverse Supplier of the Year. She received the Harvard Kennedy School’s Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership and YWCA, Woman Business Owner of the Year, focused on Empowering Women & Girls. In 2022 she was a finalist for the Specialty Coffee Association Sustainability Award.
During the pandemic and global racial unrest in 2020, Phyllis wrote an Open Letter to US Coffee Industry on Racism and as a result founded The Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE). The CCRE is a non-for-profit organization whose mission is to build racial equity in the U.S. coffee industry with focus on increasing participation and opportunities for the advancement of Black Americans. Through her leadership as founder and board chair, she successfully engaged volunteers and industry support in helping to build community among emerging Black coffee entrepreneurs. The CCRE has galvanized the industry establishing partnerships with the industry’s largest logistics and green coffee merchant German based, Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, helping to construct a one-year paid internship for Black Americans. The organization established and awarded its first educational scholarship known as the Dona Ivone Scholarship. By the end of 2022 the CCRE plans to launch its mentorship and leadership programs and continue to build the financial support necessary to sustain the organization and its work.
Phyllis holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a Master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.
Phyllis has served on numerous industry boards including, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, International Women’s Coffee Alliance, Coffee Quality Institute, and the National Coffee Association. She is speaker, an award-winning published author, who has written several articles about the inequities in the coffee trade. She is an advocate for what she believes works and adding more diverse voices to the conversation. Phyllis lives in Georgia with her husband Patrick, and they have three adult children.