“This is not who we aspire to be,” a narrator says over footage of two black men being arrested at a Starbucks store in Philadelphia.
Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were arrested after a white store manager called the police on them while they were waiting to meet a friend, accusing them of trespassing because they had not purchased anything. The two men settled with city for just $1 each (along with a promise from local officials to launch a $200,000 entrepreneurship program for high school students).
The incident spurred a company-wide initiative to fight unconscious bias. The training day aims to reaffirm the company’s role as a meeting point in communities, according to the video released by Starbucks. It’s an “opportunity to renew our commitment to the Third Place,” the narrator says of the training day.
But executives, both in the video and in other interviews, acknowledge that this is only a small part of the long and ongoing process to fight bias and prejudice in public spaces.
“May 29 isn’t a solution, it’s a first step. By educating ourselves on understanding bias and how it affects our lives and the lives of the people we encounter and serve, we renew our commitment to making the third place welcoming and safe for everyone,” Starbucks executive vice president of retail, Rossann Williams, wrote in a note to employees Tuesday.
Starbucks employees, known as “partners” in company parlance, will hear from CEO Kevin Johnson as well as executive chairman Howard Schultz in video messages on May 29. They’ll learn about unconscious bias and how to combat it in a recorded roundtable discussion led by board member Mellody Hobson.
The curriculum also includes handouts designed to encourage employees to share their own experiences on both sides of bias and to reflect on some of the tough decisions they face as stewards of a public gathering place. The video shows several baristas sharing experiences from difficult interactions with local mentally ill homeless populations to discovering people shooting up drugs in the coffee shop’s bathroom.
“Our hope is that these learning sessions and discussions will make a difference within and beyond our stores. After May 29, we will make the curriculum available to the public and share it with the regions as well as our licensed and business partners,” Williams said.