Conscious Communications & Coffee

The scene of last week's nationwide outrage at The Starbucks 18th and Spruce. 

The scene of last week's nationwide outrage at The Starbucks 18th and Spruce. 

If you live in a city, you have places you go to kill time. For me, it’s the West Elm on Chestnut Street or the Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse Square…which is right down the street from the Starbucks that sparked national outrage after a viral video of two black men being taken out in handcuffs after a manager at the Starbucks called the police. The two men were waiting for a friend.

The woman who filmed the incident was the very embodiment of brotherly love that our city loves to speak about.  In response, the manager has been fired and the Mayor asked the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to review Starbucks’ policies. Peaceful protests have taken place at the Starbucks. In this moment, I am proud of my city.

The Starbucks at the center of the outrage is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Five out of the fifteen most expensive homes for sale in the entire city are located only blocks away. It’s a bustling part of town, with plenty of business people meeting all day. Coffeehouses are meeting places, spaces for work and conversing. This cannot be the only time people were waiting for others at this Starbucks. What happened that day is inexcusable. Like I mentioned before, I have my waiting spots around the city, and no one has ever called the police on me for not buying overpriced glassware. My white privilege allows me to be just another shopper, not a threat. I am 300% sure I could use the restroom and sit in any Starbucks for hours before someone said something to me.

We all have unconscious biases we have to work to confront. Yesterday, Starbucks announced that they will be closing stores across the country for racial-bias education training. It’s a step in the right direction for sure. They are taking something ugly and turning it into a teaching moment. Instead of trying to bury, spin or change the story, they have taken full responsibility and are taking immediate action, first turning inward.

In a statement, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said, “I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it. While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

Stepping into the conscious communications space requires courage. That’s what Johnson has done in accepting full responsibility for the incident. The first step on the path to this higher level of communications is a very honest examination of how you speak to yourself, and Starbucks is doing just that. Training over 100,000 employees means a culture change is coming for Starbucks, and to a larger extent, to businesses all over America.

Closing 8,000 stores is a way for Starbucks to invest in themselves and their teams. It sets a good example for corporate America at large; it shows that understanding and addressing the hurt you have caused can be a strength. They are pushing the limits of what is expected of a corporation. It is my greatest hope that the training programs are truly engaging and enlightening, and that they help employees recognize and moderate their biases.  The founder of Paradigm, a leading strategy firm that uses a data-driven approach and draws on behavioral science research to design effective diversity and inclusion strategies for companies of all sizes, said of unconscious bias training, “Ultimately it is a commitment to consistently evaluate and innovate organizational processes — including the systems that allow for bias in the first place — that will have the most sustained impact on achieving diversity goals.”

While we wait to see what Starbucks’ program…and their culture change…looks like, and how the two men will be remunerated for their arrest, I’ll be sticking to this list of black-owned Philly coffee shops.

Molly Devlin