Commentary: Like Starbucks, too many companies have knee-jerk diversity training

Commentary: Like Starbucks, too many companies have knee-jerk diversity training
April 26
11:27 2018

Many years ago, there was a record titled, “What A Difference A Day Makes.” It was sung by Dinah Washington. In the song, it had the lyrics, “24 little hours.”

I am sure none of us knows what will happen tomorrow. We may have some idea, but we know who controls tomorrow. So, we go to bed each night hoping for the best each day and certainly not the worst. Whatever we know our best to be could be argued because the term “best” is relative. Your best might not be my best, and vice versa. But our worst might be something we could agree upon.

Just a few weeks ago, two young men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, went to bed not realizing that the next 24 hours would change their lives forever. Both Robinson and Nelson are African-American and live in Philadelphia. Like most young African-American males, they just want a chance at successful living. They want to be law-abiding and solid citizens. However, an unsettling reality creeps into the lives of those of us who are black and male. Bad things are always lurking around the corner and down the street waiting on us.

What happened to Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson illustrates the point that we as African-Americans always have to be prepared for both intended and unintended confusion. These two young black men walk into a Starbucks coffee shop and sit down and are waiting on an associate to join them. Rashon Nelson asks to use the restroom and is told that the restrooms are only for paying customers. Minutes later the Philadelphia police come in and handcuff them.

Donte Robinson says, “I was thinking they can’t be here for us. It didn’t really hit me what was going on, that it was real, till I was being double-locked with my hands behind my back.” The person who called the police was a white female employee. By the way and of interest is that she has been fired and is no longer with the company.

All of us at some point in our lives have gone into shops, stores and restaurants to use the restroom. In fact, I was in a restaurant last Friday and used the restroom. I didn’t buy a thing. After you dissect the facts in the case, race relations took a hit.

The response by Starbucks has been both immediate and swift. In addition to firing the store employee, Starbucks will also conduct diversity training for its 8,000 stores and 175,000 employees. This training is scheduled for next month. Reports say that Eric Holder, former United States attorney general, and Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal and Education Fund, will play a role in this initiative. Let’s hope that the sessions are over time and not just for one day.

It is forward thinking for Starbucks and its leadership to mandate this diversity training. I applaud them. Yet I wonder what diversity and sensitivity training their employees have had previously. Unfortunately, too many companies have knee-jerk diversity training when something bad happens. I hope other companies are watching this and thinking that maybe they should offer some workshops before something happens to them.

It’s too bad that Starbucks had to be in the news for something other than coffee.

James B. Ewers Jr. Ed.D. is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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