'Horrified' by Human Trafficking, 'Angel' in Houston Runs Special Coffee Shop to Raise Awareness
“I wanted A 2nd Cup to be a space where people could learn about human trafficking, and have the same feeling I did of outrage,” says A 2nd Cup founder Erica Raggett
When Kellie Thomas brings her 10 and 12-year-old daughters to A 2nd Cup, a coffee shop in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, she always orders the butterfly tea.
“It’s a gorgeous bluish-purplish color,” says Thomas.
The non-profit coffee shop’s walls are covered in information about human trafficking and a calendar of upcoming anti-trafficking events.
“It makes me feel empowered — it makes me feel like other people care,” says Thomas, 36, who says that when she was 15, she was a victim of human trafficking in Los Angeles.
The non-profit coffee shop was founded by Erica Raggett, who first learned human trafficking was happening in the U.S. through a 2010 Christmas program at her church.
“I was just horrified that this could be happening in our country,” Raggett, 37, tells PEOPLE. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
At the time, Raggett was a middle school science teacher in a low-income neighborhood in North Houston. This could happen to the kids in her classroom, she thought.
“The students I taught were particularly vulnerable,” she says.
Raggett spent Saturdays going to workshops and events around Houston, learning everything she could to get involved, volunteer, and help make change — but she wanted to do more.
In December 2011, she started A 2nd Cup, as a pop-up serving coffee and information about human trafficking at fair trade events and anti-trafficking conferences. In Spring 2012, her church, The Vineyard, let her convert a multi- purpose room and open two days a week.
It was so popular, she leased the building across the street in October 2017, and is now open seven days a week. They serve signature coffee drinks like the Secret Squirrel (a hazelnut latte), “flights of toast” (including avocado), and breakfast tacos.
“I wanted A 2nd Cup to be a space where people could learn about human trafficking, and have the same feeling I did of outrage,” Raggett says. “We also want people to walk away feeling empowered. When you see or hear about an issue this big and heavy and overwhelming, the only way to walk away and feel empowered is to do something.”
Much larger than most coffee shops, the 5,000-square-foot space was once a garage. She screens documentaries and partners with other anti-trafficking organizations, allowing them to use the space for meetings or fundraisers.
“Erica’s very passionate about what she does — a lot of us are very inspired by her,” says Natasha Paradeshi, co-founder and executive director of The Landing, a “place of comfort and rest for all-aged male, female, and transgender victims of human trafficking or sexual exploitation,” according to its website.
The Landing has used Raggett’s space for a fundraiser and trainings. “They could have just been a coffee shop raising awareness,” says Paradeshi, “but they’ve done so much more.”
Originally, Raggett planned to hire trafficking survivors. “I realized a survivor of human trafficking may not want to work face-to-face with customers who haven’t had their coffee yet,” she says. “Our baristas get asked a lot of questions about human trafficking. We didn’t want them to feel like they were in a fish bowl.”
In 2018, Raggett launched Brazen Table, a five-month culinary and job skills program for survivors off-site. They teach everything from knife skills to problem solving and conflict resolution.
Thomas, who grew up cooking with her grandmother in Seattle, graduated from the program in June. Being back in the kitchen helped her confidence.
“Brazen Table taught me that no matter your past, your circumstances, your life experiences, you can still prosper and grow past those things. Take those things and make them strengths instead of weaknesses,” Thomas says. “I turned those things that were once negatives and oppressed me and kept me depressed as fuel to push past. And show myself that no matter what, I’m a survivor and not a victim.”
Now, like many people who have come to A 2nd Cup, Thomas aims to get involved and do more — she wants to speak out, share her story and help other women. “It gave me new roots to grow,” Thomas says.
She’s saving up to open her own Mexican-Caribbean-Creole-fusion food truck, Chef Marie’s Oxtail Cart, where she plans to serve everything from oxtail enchiladas to oxtail garlic cheese grits.
“Erica is such a beautiful soul. She is definitely an angel,” Thomas says. “It’s not easy to stand up, to speak out. She’s a blessing to many, many, many people.”