Amid growing efforts to diversify a predominantly white and male industry, one of its most well-known figures has announced a program to encourage more black, indigenous, and people of color to study brewing. As a scholarship fund, it also provides an avenue for those looking for ways to support that cause financially.
Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, says the nonprofit Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling, or MJF, will award two types of grants: the Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship for Brewing and the Nathan Green Scholarship for Distilling.
In a tweet, Oliver said that the MJF’s mission “is to open doors for people of color within the United States brewing and distilling industries by providing (1) scholarships to accredited brewing and distilling technical courses and (2) a level of mentorship support that will help our awardees become industry leaders of the future.”
In an email to the Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® Brewing Industry Guide, Oliver says he had been pondering the idea for at least a year, but he was reluctant to move forward until he was sure he could commit. A tumultuous 2020 helped spur him to action.
“This all started last year, with exactly the same idea,” Oliver says. “However, I was not yet sure whether I would have the time and energy to turn this from a simple scholarship fund—where we’d simply dispense the $30,000 or so we had—into something larger.”
Amid the pandemic, and after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the sudden momentum of Black Lives Matter helped spur Oliver to action sooner rather than later. “As COVID hit, before ‘the current social moment,’ I started thinking harder about turning this into a foundation,” Oliver says. “What this social moment spurred is action now, not in two or three months, when I might be busy and the moment lost.”
Palmer, for whom the brewing scholarship is named, is professor emeritus at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1989, Palmer became the first black professor in Scotland. In 1998, the American Society of Brewing Chemists gave him an Award of Distinction, which Oliver refers to as “the Nobel Prize of brewing.” Palmer also is a longtime civil-rights activist.
The distilling scholarship is named for Nathan “Nearest” Green, the former slave who became Jack Daniel’s first master distiller.
As of this writing, the foundation’s website is still in the works, but when TheMJF.org goes live, it will include details about how to apply and how to donate.