Tens of thousands of Starbucks employees around the country spent Tuesday afternoon in anti-bias training, an event stemming from the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia location last month.
The Seattle-based coffee chain announced shortly after the incident last month that it would close its more than 8,000 U.S. stores May 29 while nearly 175,000 employees undergo training “geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”
Tuesday’s training sessions at Starbucks and the related events grew out of an incident that occurred April 12 in the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets in Center City. Here are highlights from Tuesday, more details about the training and a recap of the events that prompted it.
‘I do think people are learning,’ Philly Starbucks employee says of training
Malek Young, 28, who works at a Center City Starbucks, said he thought the training was going well.
“I do think people are learning,” he said outside the Loews Hotel, where the training was held. “And if they aren’t, I am.”
Jordan Crockett, 21, who also works at one of the coffee chain’s Center City stores, said he thought the conversations were productive, especially from a store manager’s perspective. He said his takeaway from the presentation was to “treat people as people.”
Considering this is 2018, and a major corporation had to shut down thousands of stores to teach employees to be inclusive and not discriminate, he quipped: “It’s a shame, but at least it’s happening.”
Starbucks CEO details training, says manager who called police on black men no longer works for company
In a meeting with the Inquirer and Daily News, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the anti-bias training “one step in a journey.”
He said the company worked with 30 experts to create the training and that part of the session features videos in which a Starbucks board member, a store manager and experts from The Perception Institute — a group that seeks to reduce discrimination — talk about topics like “racial anxiety” and personal bias versus structural bias. After watching the videos, employees will split into groups of two to three people to discuss further. Johnson and COO Rosalind Brewer said it was “emotionally exhausting” when they went through it.
Employees are also being asked to write about — and, if they’re comfortable, discuss with others — when they first noticed their racial identity.
The training takes at least four hours, said Johnson, who estimated the cost to Starbucks for the trainings would be in the “tens of millions.”
The company plans to evaluate the success of the initial training, as well as the trainings to come, through customer service scores and employee surveys.
Further trainings will center around topics like how to handle escalation, how to judge the seriousness of an incident and how to define “a true altercation,” Brewer said. Store staff will also be given other phone numbers to call in the event of an incident, including homeless shelters and food banks. Previously, the policy was to call either the store manager or 9-1-1.
Asked how business and the Starbucks brand was affected after the Rittenhouse incident, Johnson said it was “difficult to measure” and that the company was taking a “longterm view.”
He also confirmed that the manager who called the police in the Rittenhouse location was no longer working for Starbucks.
Customers have varied reactions to closed stores
At the popular Starbucks in downtown Haddonfield, Norm Alger praised the company’s decision to close for anti-bias training.
“I think it’s respectful of Starbucks to take some kind of move,” said Alger, 53, of Audubon. “I think it opens some people’s eyes.”
In Center City, Sheba Patton found the Starbucks at Broad and Pine Streets closed. She said she usually stops by that location on her way to work or home and asks for a cup of water.
“Since that incident I think they got a little bit better. They seem more friendly,” the South Philadelphia resident said. “This was one was all right, but they had a manager that would always put people out of the store if they weren’t buying anything. … I think they still need the training.”
Charles Marshall, a retired white man who also found the shop locked, called the training “a PR gesture.”
“It’s a mix of PR and ‘We’re sorry,'” said Marshall, who regularly visits that Starbucks. When asked if he thought the workers needed the training, he said: “I haven’t had any experiences, but then again, I’m not black.”
Starbucks employees in Philly leave stores to do training off-site
A group of seven employees left the Starbucks at 10th and Chestnut Streets just before 1 p.m. and walked to the Loews Hotel, where they entered an event-access-only door. Others entered as well. A Starbucks spokeswoman confirmed that Philadelphia staffers were getting trained in the Loews, but that other shops outside the city are holding the trainings in-store.
The spokeswoman said workers are getting paid for their time and also being fed.
Some Starbucks locations begin to close
The Starbucks at 19th and Chestnut streets closed around 11:30 a.m.
Cleirach Partin, a retiree who goes to that shop, likened the trainings to the “consciousness raising” sessions of the 60s.
“If that [Starbucks] incident was reported fairly and accurately, which I believe it was, they should have their consciousness raised,” Partin said.
Others questioned whether the training is necessary. Sam Atkinson, 60, who is black, said he has been to many Starbucks and didn’t have a problem. “It was only one jack—,” he said.
At the Starbucks at Broad and Pine Streets, a sign alerted customers of the training.
Megyn Kelly criticizes Starbucks’ choice in rappers
Megyn Kelly doesn’t have a problem with Starbucks’ closing for racial bias training. But she’s not a fan of the coffee chain’s choice in rappers.
On Megyn Kelly Today on Tuesday morning, the host criticized Starbucks for turning to Common, an Emmy, Oscar and three-time Grammy-winning hip-hop artist, to narrate the coffee chain’s day of training, due to some lyrics in his music she described as homophobic and degrading to women.
“If we’re going hold up someone as an example to teach on bias, maybe we should be sensitive to that person’s entire record,” Kelly said.
Criticism of Common by Kelly and some of her former Fox News colleagues dates back to 2011, when he was one of several artists invited by former First Lady Michelle Obama to celebrate poetry and the spoken word in front of young students at the White House. Former White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the controversy at the time, noting that President Obama spoke out about those types of lyrics but “he does not think that is the sum total of this particular artist’s work.”
Common made an appearance on Good Morning America Tuesday morning, where the musician said it was important to “have a black man standing up and saying what we need.”
“Starbucks was just a microcosm of how black people have been dehumanized and I wanted to be a part of that conversation,” Common said.
Black-owned cafes host roundtable talk
While Starbucks will be training their employees, black-owned cafes in Philadelphia are opening their doors for roundtable discussions on the discrimination and racial profiling blacks face in retail environments.
— Tauhid Chappell🌲 (@TauhidChappell) May 29, 2018
“Coffee spaces are a white culture space in the U.S.,” said Blew Kind, owner of Franny Lou’s Porch, who talked about creating welcoming spaces for people of color. “I’m trying to make a space where marginalized people, black folks, elders, family can be welcomed and relaxed and talk about hard, difficult topics.”
Rolando Brown, 36, who serves of board of directions for Red Bay Coffee and is based in Philadelphia, said people around the world were watching the city and its residents to see how they would respond to the Starbucks arrests.
“The way they responded, we appreciated it … saying this was unacceptable and there’s no reason someone should resign to that kind of treatment,” Brown said.
The goal of the event, which started at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Kensington was to bring “attention to the larger implications of what happened at Starbucks, [promote] the importance of inclusive and fair business models as a way to advance racial justice, and [encourage] people in Philadelphia and on social media to support Black-owned alternatives to Starbucks,” according to a news release.
>> READ MORE: Here are Philly’s best independent coffee shops
A tour of black-owned coffee shops in Philadelphia, including Uncles Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, Little Jimmie’s Bake House and Cafe, and Franny Lou’s Porch, followed.
What happened in the controversial arrests?
A female manager at the 18th and Spruce Starbucks called police after Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both 23, waited in the store for a business meeting but did not make any purchases. Nelson also asked to use the bathroom but was denied access. Police came and arested the pair. The arrests, captured on video and widely spread across social media, sparked national outrage and continued conversation on racial inequality. The company and police responded with apologies, while Nelson and Robinson reached separate agreements with Starbucks and the city.
Why is Starbucks having racial-bias training?
The arrests prompted many to ask if the manager would have contacted police if Nelson and Robinson were white. The racial-bias education aims “to ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome,” the company said in a news release last month.
During a speaking appearance in which he elaborated on a more-inclusive bathroom policy, Starbucks’ executive chairman Howard Schultz said the company was undergoing a “transformation.”
“That curriculum and that education is the beginning, not the end, of an entire transformation of our training at Starbucks, which, in addition to everything we do operationally, will stay inside the company,” Schultz said.
What will the training look like?
While the media will not be granted access to any of Tuesday’s training sessions, the company gave a brief preview last week of what they will involve. In addition to watching a film by Stanley Nelson, a director who has often focused on black history and experiences, employees will explore how bias shows up in their lives, according to a video from the company.
“We’re here to make Starbucks a place where everyone, everyone feels welcome,” CEO Kevin Johnson says in the video.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Heather McGhee, president of the think tank Demos, have played a role in developing the curriculum.
The company said it also plans to share its training materials with other businesses.
What are experts saying about it?
University of Pennsylvania professor Howard Stevenson (whose brother is Bryan Stevenson) teaches people how to handle racially charged encounters and told the Inquirer and Daily News last month that the training needs to extend beyond just one afternoon. He also said the training should include role-playing exercises and open discussion about employees’ personal experiences.
“It gets emotional sometimes,” Howard Stevenson said. “Some people will remember stories that they had forgotten.”
Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, called the training “remarkable” in a previous interview with the Inquirer and Daily News.
Staff writers Tauhid Chappell, Justine McDaniel, Katie Park, Tommy Rowan, Juliana Reyes, and Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.