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Ferguson Starbucks manager calls company-wide anti-bias training ‘thought provoking’

Manager Cordell Lewis manages a team of 18 at the Ferguson Starbucks, which opened in 2016.
Manager Cordell Lewis manages a team of 18 at the Ferguson Starbucks, which opened in 2016.

Updated June 1 with "St. Louis on the Air" segment – St. Louis Public Radio reporter Ashley Lisenby joined the show to talk about her locally focused reporting around implicit bias as Starbucks conducted company-wide training earlier this week.

Original story from May 30:

Employees at thousands of Starbucks stores went back to work Wednesday after a half-day seminar on Tuesday focused on company policies and discrimination.

At the Starbucks in Ferguson, a steady stream of cars pulled into the drive-thru just before noon and a group affiliated with a local non-profit that helps children met inside. Store manager Cordell Lewis said the store served a few hundred people that morning, same as usual.

Lewis said he thought the training was engaging and believed the small group discussions were beneficial for the his store’s 18 employees. There were videos to guide employees through the training as well.

Company-wide anti-bias training closed down Starbucks stores on the afternoon of May 29.
Credit Holly Edgell / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Company-wide anti-bias training closed down Starbucks stores on the afternoon of May 29.

Related: The Starbucks "Team Guidebook" 

“We actually sat down in groups and it was kind of a discussion dynamic, so it was really thought provoking and gave us an opportunity to be introspective,” Lewis said.

A special store

The Ferguson store, at 10776 W. Florissant Ave. opened in 2016. It is one of several stores across the country strategically placed in low-income communities to spur employment opportunities and financial investment in neighborhoods.

“We do quite a few community service projects throughout the year where we get in and we really try to engage the community as a team and as an organization,” Lewis said. “I think with that kind of mindset and that thought, the customers are more receptive to our business being here.”

Related: "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh talks to St. Louis Public Radio reporter Ashley Lisenby about Starbucks' nationwide biases training.

"The conversation will continue"

Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said the training was a way to discuss store policies to make all people feel welcome at the coffee shops. The half-day closure came after two black men in Philadelphia were arrested at a Starbucks there.

“This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners,” Schultz said in a public note posted to the company’s website.

He added later, “Discussing racism and discrimination is not easy, and various people have helped us create a learning experience that we hope will be educational, participatory and made us a better company.”

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Ashley Lisenby is the race, identity and culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She came to KWMU from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where she was a general assignment reporter who mostly covered county municipal government issues. Before making the switch to radio, Ashley covered Illinois government for The Associated Press in Springfield, Illinois, and neighborhood goings-on at a weekly newspaper in a Chicago suburb. Ashley is a Chicago native (yes, the city not the suburbs). She has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

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