Zenat Begum Is Redefining What A Coffee Shop Can Be — And The Community It Serves


To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including TV writer Cord Jefferson and activist Mariah Moore, return to the complete list here. Zenit Begum opened Playground Coffee Shop to make it a community-oriented space to center and empower the shop’s Black and brown neighbors. Sometimes, that mission gets described as “radical.” Yet, in so many ways, her approach isn’t radical at all. Having access to health care shouldn’t be extreme.

Having access to food shouldn’t be radical. It is revolutionary in that we are changing how we have access to things and how we can distribute those kinds of resources to people. That, for me, is radical, is to be able to shift that power,” she said. “Radical is being able to use the same tools that white people and rich people and non-marginalized, non-Black people have used for years, to then restructure those things to serve us.

Founded in 2016, Playground Coffee Shop in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, is much more than a coffee shop. It supports artists from marginalized communities through a radio network and a bookshop selling books and art. A nonprofit, Playground Youth, runs free or donation-based classes on various topics, including poetry, sewing, health care access, and voter registration. Pre-pandemic, the shop hosted lots of these classes and other communities.

Events like art fairs, open mic nights, and film screenings. Like many small businesses, Playground had to pivot last spring when New York became one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. Begum, 27, and her staff set up and stocked community fridges to help neighbors facing food insecurity. They built a sidewalk library for people to take and leave books by authors from marginalized backgrounds. During the summer, they distributed personal protective equipment and meals to Black Lives Matter protesters.


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