BLACK VOICES

Starbucks Wants Employees To Start Conversations About Race With Customers

03/17/2015 09:28 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2015

An internal meeting with Starbucks employees held three months ago stirred a powerful discussion on race in America. It has since prompted the company’s CEO Howard Schultz to officially extended the invitation to join the conversation to customers across the country.

On Monday, the coffee giant launched a new campaign called “Race Together,” which aims to tackle the polarizing topic through a series of steps built to stimulate action and encourage customers to engage in conversations on race with Starbucks baristas.

“[‘Race Together’] is an opportunity to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society -- one conversation at a time,” Schultz said in a statement on the company’s website.

Starbucks has sparked and sustained a growing discussion on race among its employees after Schultz held an internal meeting at the company’s headquarters in Seattle, following the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.

More than 400 employees attended the impromptu meeting in December 2014 and were given an open forum to candidly discuss race among their colleagues and share ideas and solutions on how to address the topic through a collective, company-wide mission.

“This was not about demanding change, but demonstrating a willingness to embrace change and begin to bridge the divide to empathy,” Linda Mills, a Starbucks spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post in an email.

“As these events came to an end, we realized that this is the beginning of a conversation and one we intend to continue as a company into the future.”

As part of the campaign, baristas are encouraged to engage in conversations on race with customers and distribute branded cups with the words “Race Together” handwritten on them.

"If a customer asks you what this is, try to engage in a discussion that we have problems in this country in regards to race and racial inequality,” Schultz said in a video shared by the company this week.

The company has also partnered with USA Today to release a special newspaper supplement on March 20th, which will include “conversation starters” that also urge customers to carry the discussion online using the hashtag #RaceTogether.

According to newspaper, readers will also be asked to fill in a blank in one question: “In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race ___ times.”

Schultz -- who has involved the company in several previous political discussions including a petition urging the end of the federal government shutdown as well as a pledge to hire more veterans, has been vocal on national debates but perhaps none as sensitive as the topic of race.

"The enduring success of Starbucks has been made possible because we as an organization, collectively and individually, have taken our company personal -- who might be different from you but doesn't have the same chance, the same opportunity and for that manner, may feel a sense of helplessness because of the unconscious bias people have towards that person," Schultz said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the location of Seattle.

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