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Starbucks racial bias education to feature rapper Common

The Seattle giant releases a 5-minute video, previewing the May 29 curriculum

On Thursday, Starbucks released a 5-minute sneak peek video describing what employees will learn when the company closes its stores next week for racial bias education.

The four-hour May 29 afternoon session, sparked by a racial profiling incident last month at one of its stores in Philadelphia, will include messages from Starbucks executives Kevin Johnson, Howard Schultz and Roz Brewer, as well as an appearance by celebrity rapper Common.

The video opens with images of the racial incident — where two black men were arrested for trespassing at a cafe in Philadelphia. The men had not made a purchase, and were denied use of the bathroom by a manager. They were handcuffed and taken away by police before a stunned crowd of customers who knew the men had done nothing illegal. The men have since reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Starbucks.

It’s a bold opening, and a stark reminder of why Starbucks is closing its stores next week.

“That is not who we aspire to be,” the narrator states.

In preparation for the May 29 training event, Starbucks said it received advice from the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, as well as researchers and social scientists. Roughly 8,000 company-owned stores will close in the afternoon of May 29 for the training.

Following the scene of the two men being arrested, CEO Kevin Johnson provides a welcome message.

“We are here to make Starbucks a place where everyone, everyone feels welcome,” said Johnson, who has been praised for his handling of the public scandal and media nightmare.

The training event, which is closed to the media, involves 175,000 employees. It will be divided into several learning sessions. Here are the main highlights:

• Common will act as a guide to help employees explore their own identities and “to see each other fully, completely, respectfully,” he said.
• Starbucks, under the longtime leadership of Schultz, has stood for years as a safe, third-place haven within communities. Inclusion, equity and accessibility are part of the company’s stated culture. Schultz is expected to remind employees about that Third Place vision. “On a personal level, I want to ask you that together, we do everything we can to build that third place in your store,” he said.
• Employees will then move into groups to explore how racial bias impacts them in their daily lives.
• The curriculum also includes a historical look at racial discrimination in public accommodations. Employees will watch a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who is known for examining African American history and experiences. 

Starbucks said the four-hour sessions are just a start to a longer-term effort to ensure that its cafes are doing right by the communities they serve.

“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,” Rossann Williams, executive vice president of the chain’s U.S. retail division, said in a statement.

Starbucks said most of its 7,000 licensed stores, including those inside supermarkets, hotels, airports and college campuses, are expected to be open during the May 29 training session. Those licensed business partners will have the option to later share the racial education curriculum with employees.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @FastFoodMaven

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