Starbucks across Chicago close to train workers on examining bias

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Starbucks customers seeking a mid-afternoon coffee break were met with locked doors as the international coffee chain shuttered thousands of locations Tuesday to examine racism pot (WLS)

Starbucks customers seeking a mid-afternoon coffee break were met with locked doors as the international coffee chain shuttered thousands of locations Tuesday to examine racism potentially present within its ranks.

Starbucks' shuttering of 8,000 stores nationwide this afternoon was in response to the April incident in Philadelphia, where two African American men were arrested for sitting in a store, awaiting a business meeting, and not buying anything. They were arrested for trespassing. The company apologized and settled with the men.

The company's training included a video on uncovering implicit bias that featured rapper Common. Ahead of that, baristas like Carmen Rendon prepared for the session that has been talked up at work for days.

"If they don't take it that serious, I think that if they have to close down the store then that is something they have to do to get the message across," Rendon said outside her store on Lake Street in the Loop.

Today's training was the next step, according to Chicago psychologist and multi-cultural training leader Dr. Rahul Sharma. Sharma said Starbucks' effort is to be commended -- as long as it is not "one-and-done."

"I think just stressing the fact that we need to be accountable to other people is all about how we treat each other," he said. "Also I think (Starbucks is) fighting this idea that, 'Oh, we don't want people rolling their eyes saying '"this is mandatory training."'"

The training wasn't mandatory but most baristas were expected to attend. Some Starbucks customers said that's a good thing.

"I think it is important Starbucks takes this lead and others should follow," said Suravahi Bhutani, a student sipping a latte outside the Lake Street Starbucks at the lunch hour.

But the closure doesn't end the controversy. Chicago's Black Star project earlier in the day called for pop-up boycotts of Starbucks, and for people to support independent coffee houses. At a press event on the South Side, Arron Muhammad, proprietor of Akhirah's Praline Candy and Coffee House, put it this way: "I was raised to believe that we want to treat people the way we want to be treated and it has nothing to do with color."

Starbucks now says in the aftermath of the incident in Philadelphia, anyone can use their facilities without making a purchase.

For Columbia College student Tabitha DuBose, an African-American woman who had lunch at the Lake Street Starbucks just before it closed for the afternoon, the training session was comforting to consider.

"It gives me peace of mind knowing I won't be attacked because of the color of my skin," she said.

Dr. Sharma, who was not involved in the Starbucks training, said only over time will the training's efficacy be able to be judged. He said the optimal outcome is a new mindset for those who may have been "closed" before.

"We are different, but standing up for each other and having an increased sense of belonging to each other is really important," Sharma said.

Some estimates have Starbucks giving up $17-million in revenue by closing today. It may turn out to be a small price to pay to get an important conversation going.
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