Black coffee shop-owners meet

By Tauhid Chappell - The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (McClatchy) — Starbucks hosted a racial-bias training Tuesday to talk to employees about the relationship between employees and customers and what the company can do to make its spaces more inclusive.

The training came after the arrests of two men waiting for a business contact at the 18th and Spruce Streets location last month prompted outcry, protests and public apologies.

In Philadelphia, another roundtable tour was also happening Tuesday: A discussion organized and run by black-owned coffee shop owners to highlight retail racism and the exclusion of people of color in white spaces and the importance of supporting black-owned businesses.

The chat, live-streamed by Essence, a monthly lifestyle magazine for black women, touched upon how responses to incidents like Starbucks can turn into actionable initiatives and the difficulties minorities and minority-owned businesses face in spaces and industries that are predominantly white.

Rolando Brown, 36, who serves on the board of directors for Red Bay Coffee and is based in Philadelphia, said he was inspired to help organize the event in light of the response to the Starbucks arrests.

People in Philadelphia saw the events at Starbucks as unacceptable, Brown said.

“That’s what inspired us. We saw what was happening in Philly so that inspired this kind of dialogue,” he said.

Other participants spoke of how coffee shops aren’t always welcoming for people of color.

“Coffee spaces are a white culture space in the U.S. so black folk don’t feel welcomed in that space. So if a space to build community and foster activists is white culture, why can’t we all say, ‘That’s pretty cool to gather’? Why don’t we make it a black culture space too?” said Blew Kind, owner of Franny Lou’s Porch. “I don’t want to impede on beauty parlor, stoop, block parties, because those are black culture spaces, too. I’m trying to make a space where marginalized people, black folks, elders, family can be welcomed and relaxed and talk about hard difficult topics in a welcoming space.”

Kind added that all businesses should be mindful of how they treat “other” people and that black businesses are also identifying areas of opportunity to be more inclusive in their own spaces.

The participants also talked about the importance of showing up to meetings and public discussions, especially when the events stem from incidents like the Starbucks arrests where black people have been unfairly targeted.

“Showing up to this (roundtable) says we have a wide range of voices in the community. It’s not just people from the same group. We have very business-minded people and we’re thinking about economics and sharing this information who are interested but may not have access to it,” said Shantreel Leiws, the CIO of Shoppe Black, a website that provides resources and training to black-owned companies.

For Marc Lamont Hill, a Temple professor and owner of Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown, protests and boycotts aren’t the only way to react. Sometimes, just being present without protesting is the best response and shows action too, like when hundreds of people in the black community came together to barbecue following an incident in which a white woman called police on a black family who were barbecuing at a lake near Oakland.

“A boycott is a strategy. Sometimes it’s not that, but instead can be a reinvestment strategy. The thing about Starbucks is it’s getting people to go to other locations. With Oakland, it’s congregating. People engaged in black joy and more black people showed up to barbecue,” Lamont said.

Other times, it’s being insistent and consistent and taking initiative to educate others, no matter the turnout. “Sometimes you have 1,000 people show up, sometimes five people. Make sure you educate no matter what. That way you keep moving so that when people come back you’re moving forward,” said Pam Africa, a longtime activist who leads an organization seeking the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man convicted for the death of a police officer.

Organizers said accountability in these instances can remedy conflicts, mitigate chances of minorities being targeted or excluded, and ultimately shift how community members acknowledge, respect and include others in their spaces.

“How can we humanize each other? How can we love? That’s what we’re missing, love,” Kind said, “I don’t want to ostracize the white community, I want them to do better.”

By Tauhid Chappell

The Philadelphia Inquirer