With the release of a new short film featuring former NBA star Dwyane Wade, Budweiser is launching an initiative to increase diversity in brewing—an industry where only 0.6% of brewers are Black.
The brand has committed $1 million to a new scholarship fund named after the first Black female brewmaster at Budweiser’s flagship St. Louis brewery, Natalie Johnson.
Johnson, a chemist by training, started at Anheuser-Busch as an intern. Since then, she’s made a concerted effort to encourage the Black employees at Budweiser throughout her career, serving as a role model for those who don’t always see themselves represented in industry leadership.
To announce the scholarship, Wade flew to St. Louis to pay Johnson a visit. At a small, empty bar, the two discussed the stereotypes that have been built into the brewing industry and how to make it a more diverse space.
In a powerful exchange, Wade tells Johnson about the scholarship—which she wasn’t fully aware of prior to filming—and explains that it’ll be in her name.
While the scholarship was a surprise, it’s fully in line with the way Johnson has conducted herself throughout her career—an extension of the work she’s been doing since the day she was hired by Anheuser-Busch.
“I think a big part of what people see as an option for them for a career—for a future—has a lot to do with what they see,” said Johnson. “If they don’t see a space in which they believe they belong, I think folks struggle to see placing themselves there, for a career, for something that they would truly enjoy.”
The UNCF Budweiser Natalie Johnson Scholarship will support 30 students annually for the next five years through scholarships of between $4,000 and $6,000. Budweiser is hoping to expand that opportunity to a wider range of potential brewers—specifically, Black students in STEM.
“Our main values are community and progress,” said Budweiser vp of marketing Monica Rustgi. “With each season comes a new way for us to not only express what our brand stands for, but help move America forward.”
For Wade, who recently partnered with Budweiser to launch its first alcohol-free beer, creating a scholarship program alongside Johnson confirmed his belief that Budweiser was the kind of brand that would help him to build a more inclusive platform.
Being able to tell stories like Johnson’s and then expand that opportunity for others is exactly where Wade wants to be, he said, and he wants to continue to pass it on.
“Me and Natalie walk out that door, we go pick up somebody else, we keep bringing people along with us,” Wade said. “It’s that saying: Once you get in the door, don’t let the door close—keep it open for others. I have that opportunity, so I want to continue to try to do that.”
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