Unlike many company heads, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is not afraid to get political.
He’s already pushed outspoken-yet-measured stances, such as asking (but not outright banning) gun owners to not bring guns into Starbucks stores. In that spirit, baristas at the 4,700 U.S. Starbucks locations are being encouraged but not required to discuss race relations with customers.
And Schultz and Starbucks aren’t settling for a quiet release, either: After several forums in big cities, they’re launching their Race Together initiative with full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today–and the latter will also ship with an educational race-relations pamphlet as part of partnership with USA Today. Today, the news is trending on Twitter through #RaceTogether. That might seem like aggressive PSA-ing, but it’s part of the initiative responding to the alarming concerns raised at the forums, which Starbucks recounted in the initiative’s blog post:
In the midst of a conversation with partners in St. Louis, a soft spoken young man shared that he was proud to have reached the age of 20.
“The magnitude of that statement might have been lost on many in the room, but for me, it brought to light a deeply troubling situation. For some young people in our country, just staying alive is their biggest and most important accomplishment,” said Kelly Sheppard, a Starbucks 15-year partner who attended two of the forums. “How could that be in 21st century America with all of the promise and opportunity our nation provides?”
The Twitter reactions to the Race Together initiative are exactly what you’d expect: a frothy mix of snark and indignant anger at Starbucks’ audacity to push discussions about race on folks who want coffee without any engagement from their barista. In short, Race Together’s already working.