By David Z. Morris
May 26, 2018

When they close the doors of more than 8,000 stores on the afternoon of May 29th for a nationwide training on racial bias, Starbucks employees will also get a little star power.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the rapper Common will make an appearance in a series of videos played at the training. Common isn’t quite a Kanye-level household name these days, but he saw success as part of a generation of hip hop and R&B acts, also including Erykah Badu and The Roots, who focused on social justice issues starting in the late 1990s. More recently, Common has acted in film and television, won a 2015 Oscar for a song he contributed to the film “Selma,” and has also won Emmy and Grammy awards.

Common’s career-long focus on social justice included a contentious 2011 episode in which conservatives criticized his invitation to perform at the Obama White House. Critics cited a song in which the rapper praised Assata Shakur, a black activist convicted of killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Shakur, a former Black Panther and godmother of rapper Tupac Shakur, later escaped to Cuba and is still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, though many still question her conviction.

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The May 29th Starbucks training is itself a response to a racially-charged incident involving police. In April, a store manager called the police on two black men who were in a Philadelphia store waiting for a friend. The incident ended with the two men, who had done nothing illegal or even disruptive, being arrested and place din handcuffs. Video of the incident went viral, prompting Starbucks to re-evaluate its policy on non-paying guests and announce the racial bias training.

The afternoon’s curriculum will also feature video messages from CEO Kevin Johnson and executive Chairman Howard Schultz, and a film from Stanley Nelson, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and creator of lauded documentaries focused on African-American struggles for justice. In addition to the videos, staff members will “learn together in small self-guided groups.”

Starbucks also says the afternoon is just the first of a planned series of trainings “addressing all aspects of bias and experiences,” part of a broader agenda aimed at making its stores more welcoming for all visitors.

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