A coalition of thousands of Black and Latino churches is being taken to task for its plans involving Starbucks stores nationwide because of the plan's racial overtones.
The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprising 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans, plans to send 25,000 testers into Starbucks stores to test whether their training day for racial sensitivity had any effect whatsoever.
Starbucks ordered the training after an incident at a Philadelphia store where two black men were arrested for trespassing. According to USA Today and other news outlets, one of the men had asked to use the bathroom and was told the restrooms were only for paying customers. He sat down to wait with his friend for another individual to join them for a meeting. The men have since settled with Starbucks.
Regardless, NCBI explains that its testers will focus on stores that are located in predominantly white zip code areas:
"We will mainly utilize African Americans males who have been trained on what to do and what to say. In no way will they be threatening. They have been trained to use all nonviolent gestures and language. They have also been trained to be sensitive to the fact of any harassment, racial insensitivity as to their presence, or being targeted in any matter. They are trained to call the police on Starbucks and to record any incidents with their phones ....
"One day of training is not going to transform Starbucks into an oasis of brotherly love and an oasis of tolerance. This is why we choose to keep the pressure on Starbucks until we are satisfied that we will not be discriminated against and disrespected because we are Black."
Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, says the plan should bring no cause for alarm:
"... Testers are used all the time by corporate entities to find out whether or not their employees around the country are implementing their customer service protocol guidelines. What NBCI is doing is nothing different than making sure that we can hold Starbucks accountable to their pledge and that is to treat all of us with dignity and respect regardless of race, creed, national origin or sexual orientation."
Stacy Washington, co-chair of Project 21, a leadership group of conservative and free-market black Americans, is surprised this is a church initiative.
"We're not called to look at each other as black Christians or white Christians," she explains. "That's now how God calls us to look at each other. We're members of the same body; and those of us who are not a part of our Christian faith, they are potential Christians. They're people for us to disciple. We're supposed to be loving on these people."
Washington argues that Starbucks brought this on itself by having the training day – and then orchestrating the subsequent PR effort through which people found out that it was mainly about "ginning up racial animus" between people and "making black people feel like victims."
"... A lot of the people in the training said they couldn't believe the images they were seeing that were from 50 and 60 years ago of people being beaten during protests in the Civil Rights movement," she says. "And that has nothing to do with whether or not people are allowed to use the bathroom in Starbucks if they haven't purchased anything."
All things considered, Washington calls it another misstep in a series of missteps that have been made by the company that are now inviting other missteps by the other group.
"And I'm sure the intentions are well," she continues. "The president of the National Black Church Initiative claims that he seeks to see that all of us are treated with dignity and respect regardless of race, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation – and that was my red flag because we [as Christians] are also not called to be seen as what type of sex a person prefers.
"So this is just another example of a kind of misguided behavior with intentions that could be very, very good – but it's being done in completely the wrong way."
NCBI says the findings of its testers won't be made immediately known to the public – unless those findings are negative; in which case, NCBI says it will launch a nationwide boycott against Starbucks for one year.