By Ellen McGirt
May 1, 2017

I spent the hundredth day of the Trump presidency marking a different milestone – the one-year anniversary of the opening of the first Starbucks in Ferguson, MO. There was a lot to celebrate.

Though a torrential downpour drove the planned block party inside, there was a sunny vibe all around. Senior Starbucks executives, in from Seattle, chatted with elected officials and people from local organizations like the Urban League, along with Starbucks employees and regular customers, just like they were old friends. At this point, they sort of were. The store is part of a bigger idea for selling more than just lattes in Ferguson and places like it; it aims to be part of an economic opportunity engine that offers a clean, well-lighted space for a community to do the work they need to grow. And that meant lots of trips to Ferguson, many hours logged in city council meetings, frank talk with other business owners and their families, and just hanging out, listening and asking all sorts of questions.

But the new store is also a part of some bigger ideas that Ferguson has for itself; fitting those ideas together took time and patience, particularly for a town who has been through some things and still feels the world doesn’t understand who they really are. But on the hundredth day, there were hugs and cupcakes and a mantra on a bulletin board that made the case: “Local contractors. Local partners. Local love.”

I’ll be digging into all of this for a longer story to post later this week, but the celebration reminded me of how deeply personal this work is. Inclusion happens over time, as a series of conversations that have the needs of real people, in all their messy humanity, at its center. And it needs to happen at scale. That’s not often a corporate thing. Or a government thing, for that matter. And it’s definitely not an easy thing.

I’d like to take a moment to brag on one of raceAhead’s earliest profile subjects. Long-time readers may remember Damon Davis from the Fortune story “Leading While Black;” he was one of four St. Louis area young men who were confident that corporate life was not for them. (He also appeared along with his business partner, Darian Wigfall, in the video that accompanied the story.) When we met, over whiskey and craft beers, Davis was in the middle of a documentary about the events in Ferguson, and had an almost comically long list of projects and accomplishments as an artist and music producer. Since we talked, his work has been included in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, and his film “Whose Streets,” premiered to strong reviews at Sundance.

Here’s what Davis and his friends said about corporate life:

They all believe that have access to the tools they need to succeed on their own terms, and a network of friends and community that sees them. They see no need to invest in a flawed system that isn’t designed to invest in them. These are the young black men for whom corporate America is not an option, but not because they worry they won’t measure up. “Why?” Davis asks pointedly. “What’s in it for me?” If his business ideas are workable he can scale them on his own.

Davis is also a TED fellow. NPR’s Code Switch covered his just completed talk about the Ferguson film, where he talked about how the community reacted after Michael Brown’s death:

“He ain’t the first, and he won’t be the last young kid to lose his life to law enforcement. But see, his death was different. When Mike was killed, I remember the powers that be trying to use fear as a weapon. The police response to a community in mourning was to use force to impose fear. Fear of militarized police, imprisonment, fines. The media even tried to make us afraid of each other by the way that they spun the story… this time was different.”

The job of the next hundred days, and all the days after that, is to make sure that things stay different in all the ways they need to. While it’s jarring to think about the Trump presidency, and its very traditional embrace of top-down, white male executive aggression, the idea that the structured world puts up permanent barriers to good ideas is losing sway. Like-minded people can both find each other and a way to work together, even at scale. It just takes time and more than a little bit of love.

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