Letter from ceo: Courageous conversations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder

A letter to Starbucks U.S. partners from Kevin Johnson, Starbucks ceo and president

To my Starbucks Partners,

Last night we called for a partner forum for any Starbucks partners who felt compelled to join a conversation about the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and the many other racial injustices that have shaken the entire country and each one of us. And today, on a Saturday, two thousand partners – many joined by family members — came together virtually to share stories, express emotions, and support one another as we all try to make sense of what is happening in our society.

As we all deal with our personal feelings and experiences through this, there are important questions in front of us. How can we help each other heal, and how can we contribute to society in a positive and constructive way on the topic of racism and injustice?

During this afternoon’s 90-minute forum, Zing Shaw, our global chief inclusion and diversity officer at Starbucks, shared Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: “A riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear?” She stressed the importance of us listening to each other and the power of acknowledging the work that we need to do as a country and as a society.

Today was an opportunity for us to listen to one another as partners.  

Shaun Spearmon, a program manager at Starbucks, said that as a Black man, he lives with the reality that far too many in the world don’t value his life, something he had to learn as a child – and something he worries about every day as he raises a young son. “I’m terrified his experience will be like mine,” he said.

The solution starts with a sense of urgency about change, he said. “Racism and the targeting of people of color and of Black men has to be our problem, not just mine. It needs to be shared by all of us. Our lives literally depend on it.”

Other partners also courageously shared their stories. Kris Clemmons, a director of regional operations, U.S. field operations, talked out how his great grandparents were born into slavery. They could have looked back at their history and, based on that, not had reason to think anything would change going forward but, still, they dreamed of a different life.

“I am the descendent of believers in the impossible,” Kris said. “But for their dream, I wouldn’t be here. … It reminds me of my duty to dream the impossible for future generations.” 

That dreaming isn’t a passive activity, he said, people can donate money to organizations working to dismantle racial oppression and vote and fight to protect the rights of others to vote.

Toward the end of the session, Zing told us that she wakes each morning asking herself two questions: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” She challenged us to ask ourselves those questions, to listen to the answer and to use it to understand the difference we can make.

“We must remain optimistic,” she told us. “We must be honest about the situation and be open to listen and learn. We must be willing to take positive steps forward. That’s what I think we are doing by having this session.”

We have always believed in being a different kind of company. Today was an example of that – and we will continue having these conversations. Roz Brewer and I are grateful for the partners who led today’s discussion including Zing, Kris, Shaun, Camille Hymes and Adam Modzel who all shared their stories and participated in the conversation with our partners. I appreciate all who joined us and for those who shared their very important and unique perspectives on the events our country is grappling with.  

While we may not have all the answers, we know the path forward requires these courageous conversations with one another. As I shared at the close of today’s meeting it is, in part, our promise to one another as partners to live our mission and values daily. We are a family. We act with empathy and compassion. And we honor our differences, always. We uplift each other. Because that is what true Starbucks partners do.

With respect and gratitude,
Kevin