The Right Thing

“I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level. I think I take it very personally as everyone in our company does and we’re committed to making it right.”

That’s Starbucks company founder and Executive Chairman Howard Schultz talking to CBS This Morning host Gayle King about his reaction to two black men who were arrested in in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week after the manager called the police when the men asked to use the restroom without purchasing anything and refused to leave.

On Tuesday, Starbucks CEO Kevin R. Johnson, said in a statement that all 8,000 stores in the Starbucks the United States chain would close for one day, May 29, in order to conduct anti-bias training.

“The announcement we made yesterday about closing our stores, 8,000 stores closed, to do significant training with our people is just the beginning of what we will do to transform the way we do business and educate our people on unconscious bias,” Schultz told King in an interview.

“It will cost millions of dollars,” Schultz added, “but I’ve always viewed this and things like this as not an expense, but an investment in our people and our company. And we’re better than this.”

“According to Schultz, the Philadelphia store manager who called the police has left the company. However, he said she is ‘interested’ in sitting down with the two men who were arrested — something Schultz sees as a ‘unique opportunity’ for ‘reconciliation.’

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason that they (police) were called was because they were African American,” Schultz said. “That’s not who Starbucks is.”

As reported by CBS (Apr. 18), “According to Schultz, Starbucks has called in people including Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative to help guide the company in its efforts to reduce unconscious bias. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson met with the men who were arrested to ask what the company can do for them. Schultz said that there’s a possibility the two men could end up working with the company.

The New York Times reported (Apr. 17), “ ‘This move goes far beyond the playbook’ of what a normal crisis response would be, said Andrew D. Gilman, the president of CommCore Consulting Group, a crisis management firm. ‘That’s sending a big statement.’

“The training will address implicit bias, the company said on Tuesday, with input from groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League.”

Will the one-day training have an impact?

“Academics who study unconscious bias say that training can help alleviate it,” The New York Times writes in a separate story (Apr. 18). “In one study involving five California middle schools, math teachers were asked to read up on the reasons students might misbehave, and urged to make students feel heard and respected. They were then asked to write down how to employ these concepts in practice, a technique that tends to helps people internalize material.

“The researchers found that suspension rates at those schools plummeted for groups of students traditionally suspended at very high rates, and who may have been victims of bias.

“ ‘It allows people to just think in a more mindful way when interacting with other people,’ said Jason Okonofua, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was the lead researcher. ‘It’s putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, seeing humanity in that person.’ ”

Schultz and Starbucks have always demonstrated a positive stance when it comes to handling issues as the crossroads of commerce and controversy.

In 2013, Schultz entered the gun debate with a thoughtful and respectful approach in dealing with customers who are permitted to openly carry guns into their stores.

In a statement, Schultz wrote, “today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas – even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted – unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.

“First,” Schultz continued, “this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners a chance to respect our request – and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose ‘open carry,’ we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion ‘open carry,’ please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.”

Schultz’s effort led many customers to consider being both respectful and responsible. And despite the high price of their coffee and food items, it remains a primary reason why I continue to be a Starbucks customer.

Schultz and Starbucks continue to strive to be respectful, responsible and now, accountable for their actions and policies.

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