Starbucks CEO Kevin R. Johnson announced this afternoon (April 17) that more than 8,000 stores in the United States will close on May 29 so that some 175,000 employees can undergo racial bias training. According to a statement posted on the company’s web site, the curriculum will be "developed with guidance" from experts including Equal Justice Initiative CEO Bryan Stevenson, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund CEO Sherrilyn Ifill, Demos president Heather McGhee, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder; and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
The decision stems from the dustup over a viral video that shows the April 12 arrest of two Black men who were waiting for a friend in a downtown Philadelphia store. The men, who hadn’t yet ordered anything, asked employees to use the bathroom and were told that it was for paying customers only. They were then told to leave. When the men, who have not been identified, calmly refused to leave, the store manager called police on grounds that they were trespassing. Their friend, a White real estate investor named Andrew Yaffe, arrived to watch about six officers arrest the men. In the video, which was taken by a customer and posted by another patron, Yaffe asks police, "Were they called because two Black guys were sitting here meeting me? What did they do?" A woman can be heard saying that they didn’t do anything.
The men’s pro bono lawyer told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the men were held for nearly eight hours without being charged and were released only after police learned that Starbucks didn’t plan to push for the men to be prosecuted.
The Philadelphia Human Rights Commission and the Philadelphia Police Department launched two separate investigations of the incident over the weekend. Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is Black, said in a Saturday Facebook video that police acted appropriately. In his Saturday statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said he was "heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that—at least based on what we know at this point—appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018."
The store, which is on 18th and Spruce Streets, has been the scene of daily protests since the arrests. CEO Johnson publicly apologized to the men during a Monday "Good Morning America" broadcast. Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer, who is Black, has also been on tap to do damage control.
This isn’t Starbucks’ first media storm over race. In 2015, the chain encouraged baristas at its 12,000 United States stores to start a discussion about race with customers by writing the words “Race together” on their cups. The effort was swiftly criticized by racial justice experts including those within Race Forward, the organization that publishes Colorlines.
In a Tuesday (April 17) evening statement, Glenn Harris, Race Foward president and Colorlines publisher, called the Starbucks training day a good initial effort and called for more:
"Tackling implicit bias is a critical step for any institution working to combat racism. To root out bias, Starbucks must be explicit about race. They must also explore and address how racism plays out across the company—from the customer experience to who gets promoted to the demographics of their executive leadership," said Harris. "We know from working with institutions day in and day out that this work is complext. No single intervention is ever enough in a company this big, but we’re encouraged that Starbucks is taking this step."
*Post has been updated since publication to include a quote from Colorlines publisher and Race Forward president Glenn Harris.