Meet Kitti Murray, CEO, and Founder at Refuge Coffee Co, a non-profit that provides a living wage, full-time jobs, job training, and mentorship to resettled refugees in Clarkson, Georgia, and beyond.
Kitti started Refuge Coffee Co. at the age of 57 with the help of her neighbors in the refugee community. Her family resides on the edge of Atlanta in an intense but welcoming community. Kitti joined hands with the neighbors near and far to create opportunity and true refuge through coffee and community service in the state. Started 6 years ago, with the help of the refugee trainees, today Refuge Coffee Co. runs two coffee shops in Clarkston and downtown Atlanta. They can be spotted by their bright red coffee trucks in the city.
Kitti grew up in a privileged white family. She had a comfortable childhood but was constantly exposed to people and places that differed from them. This taught her the privilege is a responsibility. She is grateful to her parents for showing her unconditional love as a way of life. Before starting Refuge, Kitti was a soccer mom, a wife, and did side hustles as well. She started writing full time when they moved to Clarkston. Her favorite days were on, which she wrote until afternoon and indulged in some sort of party thereafter. She loved hanging out with people, connecting with them, and even though the purpose wasn’t clear. This led her to start Refuge in 2014.
Talking about her company, she says, “The beauty and mission of Refuge is our refugee workforce. By paying a full-time, living wage job while also doing training and mentorship with our refugee neighbors, we place a value on our people. At the core, we are a training program with the privilege of creating welcoming, safe environments (our coffee shops) and telling a more accurate, beautiful story about the refugee crisis”. Refuge Coffee Co. pursues all this ‘with’ the refugee community not ‘for’ them. Instead of charity money, Kitti and her company offer them work opportunities to live a respectful life. They believe in the power of inclusivity and, hence, provide employment to the community members.
Initially, Kitti was troubled with the fear that it wouldn’t work and they won’t be able to pay people. Her focus was to say yes to everything instead of taking measured steps. Her present challenges are related to scaling, funding, and managing the organization while maintaining the dignity of those involved in the process. The company has been a huge success since the start. They have been featured in several leading media channels including CNN, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, HLN, Senator Bill Bradley’s radio show, American Voices, Food & Wine magazine, etc. They have been listed as top coffee shops by Southern Living and Big Seven Travel. Kitti has spoken about Refuge at several human and civil rights organizations that cover stories related to justice and mercy.
Kitti is doing her bit to make the world a better place for everyone, including the refugees. Addressing the need for inclusion, she says- “Every human deserves to be welcomed, and every human has the capacity to welcome others. This a universal fact, one our world needs for us to intentionally affirm. Any time we can welcome the historically, systemically, or even momentarily unwelcomed, we’re creating a more just world. And the beauty of this is that it isn’t hard to do. I’ve seen firsthand the power of a smile, a few simple words, a gesture, a moment of connection over coffee or tea. That’s, of course, not all there is to justice work, but it is a very good beginning every one of us can do”.