Skip navigation
starbucks Starbucks
At Starbucks headquarters, Tuesday's training started with a coffee tasting led by Sena Kwawu senior vice president, Supply Chain Finance and Shared Services.

Starbucks employees react to anti-bias training

"It was an eye opener," says a barista in Tennessee

Starbucks Corp. released a series of vignettes detailing employee reactions to the company’s anti-bias training, which involved closing roughly 8,000 company locations on Tuesday afternoon. Units reopened on Wednesday morning.

The four-hour training session, which was closed to the public and media, was sparked by a racial profiling incident in April at a Starbucks location in Philadelphia.  The curriculum included a short film about racial discrimination in public spaces created specifically for Starbucks by documentary film maker Stanley Nelson.

The film describes the civil rights movement and includes testimonials from African-Americans who continue to feel unwelcome in a society that has banned discrimination for decades. Many talked about feeling uncomfortable when riding the subway or buying a sandwich in a fast-food restaurant.

The training session was prompted after two black men were arrested for trespassing at a Starbucks location 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. The men have since reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Starbucks.

Executives have called the incident reprehensible. The company vowed to dedicate resources to ensure no one else is discriminated against in its cafes, which have always branded themselves as “third place” safe havens for the communities they serve.


The anti-bias training on Tuesday, which involved 175,000 employees, is just the beginning, Starbucks has said. The Seattle-based chain’s support center in that city also shut down so employees could take part in training sessions.

Here’s how some Starbucks partners reacted to the training, held at locations across the country. Comments were curated by Starbucks’ Newsroom team, not Nation’s Restaurant News:

Tafsir “Taz” Mbodje, a Starbucks district manager in New York City, said the training sessions entailed several powerful moments, including a discussion about “Who is not in our stores?”

Tafsir Mbodje
Photo: Starbucks

He said it reminded him that several of his cafes in the New York area removed power outlets to prevent people from sitting and charging their devices for long periods of time.

“It really made me think of customers who, over the years, we may have left out unintentionally with our policies,” Mbodje  said. “People are working at Starbucks. Editing videos. Meeting with prospective clients. When we shut our outlets, those customers no longer had a place to charge their phones, their laptops and themselves.”

Hailey Dowell
Photo: Starbucks

In Clarksville, Tenn., barista Hailey Dowell said she was shaken by the Nelson’s documentary.

"It was an eye opener," she said. "I know people are treated this way, but never think about it. I never think about how someone may feel uncomfortable because they deal with it every day."

Related links:

Starbucks affirms open bathroom policy: ‘Give people the key’

Starbucks closing 8,000 locations Tuesday afternoon after racial profiling incident

Starbucks responds to racial profiling accusations: ‘This is not who we are’

Starbucks racial bias education to feature rapper Common

4 lessons from Starbucks’ racial bias incident

Starbucks reaches settlement in racial bias scandal

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.