Andra AJ Johnson
Andra AJ Johnson Credit: Darrow Montgomery

“People matter more than business, but I can’t shirk my responsibilities,” says Serenata managing partner Andra “AJ” Johnson. “I had to figure out how to activate, get people motivated, and help the cause. I had to support people who could activate change.”

Johnson is behind the inaugural “Back to Black” virtual charity cocktail pop-up scheduled for June 27 and 28. Customers pay $20 for a pre-mixed, three-serving vessel containing a cocktail complete with garnishes. It also comes with customized artwork of the drink, information about its creator, and the story behind the beverage.

Pick-up for cocktails and Back to Black apparel will be available both days from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Serenata, located inside La Cosecha at 1280 4th St. NE. Pre-orders are preferred and will soon be made available on Tock. Follow Back to Black on Instagram for updates. 

Johnson was inspired to create Back to Black based on conversations with friends during weeks of protests that began after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25. “A really good friend of mine, who is a single mom with two small kids, called me,” Johnson says. “We hadn’t spoken in eight years. We talked for a while. She was scared. ‘AJ,’ she said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’” 

Johnson assembled a team of black bar talent with the goal of showcasing their talents, activating their voices, and raising money for the black and Latinx entrepreneurship education group Black and Brown Founders, as well as Black Lives Matter DC and the local chapter of the NAACP. Bartenders Richard Sterling, Kapri Robinson, and Frank Mills, and Kith/Kin executive pastry chef Paola Velez are collaborating on the event. Lorena Prada, a D.C.-based graphic artist, and designer is handling social media for the event. 

“Back to Black will tell powerful and inspiring stories,” Johnson says. Mills, the beverage director for Roy Boys and the co-founder of Drinklock Reverse Coasters and Daring Kombucha Cocktails, will share a drink called, “Power Up!” The libation incorporates rum, passionfruit, mango, and sparkling wine, and seeks to honor the legacies of African Americans whose lives have been impacted by violence.

“The individuals who have lost their lives in recent history as well as in the generational lengths of history have looked like me and my family members and my future kids,” Mills told City Paper last week

“Working in bars and restaurants is hard because [bartenders] can’t always put our stamp on anything we’re putting out,” Johnson says. “In times like these, it’s not helpful for our voices to feel stifled. We have to discover how to create experiences that push us all forward.”