Editor’s note: Jordan Williams, founder of Kansas City-based fashion company Keefe Cravat, wrote the following in response to a recent national news story with local implications for members of the startup community. The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
The arrest earlier this month of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks brings an opportunity for us to ignite change — not just in coffee shops, but at all points across Kansas City and beyond.
People of color have been fighting against racial injustice for decades, but we’ve had mixed results. Each time substantial progress seems near, the voices of our leaders are silenced before those dreams are fully achieved. We’ve demanded our white brothers and sisters stand alongside us in this battle.
This time, Starbucks listened.
As you likely heard or saw in viral cell phone footage of the incident, business partners Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were waiting on a third man at a Philadelphia Starbucks April 12 to discuss a real estate deal when an employee called 911. The men, who are black, were accused of trespassing after only a few minutes because they hadn’t yet ordered, and police took them out in handcuffs.
In response to the swell of outrage directed at Starbucks after a customer’s video spread across social media, the coffee giant’s CEO announced its 8,000 company-owned stores would close their doors on the afternoon of May 29 to address systemic racism. The training for more than 175,000 workers is expected to focus on racial bias.
On 5/29, we’ll close US company-owned stores to conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias & prevent discrimination. We’re taking a hard look at who we are as a company. We’re ashamed & recognize that racial bias is a problem we must address. https://t.co/xIYc75BJPj
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 17, 2018
To me, that’s a big deal. America’s premier coffee shop is standing up for people of color.
But it isn’t enough.
That’s not to say Starbucks alone should be doing more. We should all do more.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us to band together if we want to create a society where we’re treated equally. Fifty years ago this month, Dr. King died with that message on his lips — silenced by those who are happy to see us divided.
This is our moment, people.
We — as consumers of all backgrounds — should insist other companies follow Starbucks’ example on May 29. (Incidents of discrimination didn’t begin with Starbucks, and they won’t end until we look within at all establishments.) Don’t spend a dollar at any corporation that isn’t taking serious steps to address diversity, inclusion and bias issues.
If a coffee chain can do it, so can others. Starbucks is taking a major loss in sales on May 29, and it’s all for the greater good of mankind.
For those of us who are business owners or leaders — from humble startups to marketing and real estate firms with hundreds of employees; from Kansas City’s mega tech companies to restaurants — we too should make a commitment to acknowledging racial bias and training our people on May 29. Close your doors for the afternoon and talk. This should be required not only for your public-facing workers, but for founders, CEOs, hiring managers and anyone else on the job.
Stand with Starbucks.
Challenge yourselves to avoid businesses that don’t make bias training a priority. Explore the — often hidden — ways race plays a role within your own businesses or organizations. Open a dialogue about how our community can reshape Kansas City’s views on diversity and inclusion.