On May 29, Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores in the United States for four hours, so that 175,000 of its employees could come together for what the company called a conversation and learning session on racial bias. This nationwide effort was in response to the much-publicized and criticized April incident that saw two black men (Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson) arrested while waiting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, for another man, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, with whom they were to have a business meeting. When they asked to use the restroom before they had purchased anything, an employee refused. The pair were eventually asked to leave the Starbucks location, and when they did not, an employee called the police, which led to the arrest that was captured on video, igniting widespread criticism of Starbucks and Philadelphia police.

The 2 gentlemen would eventually settle with the city of Philadelphia, given $1 each, with the city agreeing to spend $200,000 to help young entrepreneurs.

Starbucks also said that it reached an agreement with Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson that included “a confidential financial settlement,” and announced its plans for racial bias training which it acknowledged “isn’t a solution, it’s a first step” in an effort to rebuild its damaged reputation.

Stanley Nelson
Stanley Nelson

As part of this training, all 175,000 employees were required to watch specially produced short films, commissioned by Starbucks executives. One of the videos was independently produced and directed by notable, multiple award winning African American documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Freedom Summer, 2014; The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, 2015; Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, 2017; and much more), who created a 8-minute long film about racial bias.

The short film is licensed to Nelson, who created it independently from Starbucks, the company said in a press statement.

In the film, which is now available online (watch it below), several individuals sharing the biases they face daily; it also includes cell phone footage capturing instances of microaggressions and harassment, including an employee following a black customer through a store.

In addition to videos watched, Starbucks employees were encouraged to share life experiences, listen to others, and to experts on bias and racial anxiety, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and how they can all work together to create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong.

Starbucks calls the events of May 29 as “a foundational step,” so expect more efforts on the company’s part to educate their employees on racial bias.

Titled Story of Access, the independently created film by Stanley Nelson was underwritten by Starbucks with the intent of educating employees about the history of access to public spaces for African Americans. The film explores the impact of bias as well as the possibilities for progressive movement. Watch it below: