The program involves group discussions and film screenings, with more sessions planned.

By Tim Nelson
May 24, 2018
Photo by Ben Pruchnie via Getty Images

Ever since Starbucks caught flak for the racist incident in Philadelphia, the company has vowed to change. So far, that change has come in the form of new policies opening up both Starbucks’ bathrooms and seating space to anyone, regardless of whether they make a purchase. But behind it all was the somewhat vague promise of racial sensitivity training set to take place at 8,000 Starbucks locations on the afternoon of May 29.

Now, thanks to new details about the curriculum from Starbucks, we have a slightly better sense of what that training will involve. Developed in part with help from Bryan Stevenson (founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative), Sherrilyn Ifill (president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund), and Heather McGhee (president of public policy organization Demos), the May 29 session will be broadly centered on an exploration of bias and how to handle it in accordance with the “Third Place Policy” of inclusion that Starbucks wishes to promote.

In addition to small-group discussions and exercises in a provided “tool kit”, the program includes a screening of “You’re Welcome,” a new film by Stanley Nelson that will explore the history of racial discrimination in the United States and how it manifests in our present moment. Rapper Common will be taking a break from promoting Microsoft to serve as a “guide” who will “help folks start exploring their own identities.”

According to Executive Vice President of US Retail Rossann Williams, the day of training isn’t just a one-time effort to put Starbucks’ ugly recent past behind them. “May 29 isn’t a solution, it's a first step,” she said in a company statement. “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.”

Today’s announcement didn’t include any details regarding when future trainings will take place or what these subsequent sessions might involve, but Starbuck says their May 29 training materials will be made available to outside organizations and individuals who would like to use them. Additionally, Starbucks’ 7,000 licensed stores (the locations you see in grocery stores, airports, etc.) will not be closed that day, but will have the option to institute the training program at a later date.

Clearly, Starbucks isn’t the only organization (let alone individual) in need of exploring how it relates to and handles issues of race. And though it’s easy to dismiss such a public-facing exercise as a cynical attempt at damage control, there’s no shame in hoping these efforts do end up making one small part of the world a little more welcoming to marginalized communities in these trying times.