Starbucks Partners Share Kwanzaa Traditions

Ogbonna Mills is a 14-year Starbucks partner in the company’s store development team. Ain Powell is a ten-year partner in partner (human) resources.

Both grew up in Seattle in families that had been active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. And both were a part of the first group of Starbucks partners who came together to form Starbucks Black Partner Network in 2007.

The network began with just a little over 100 people at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, and has now more than doubled. Its mission is to cultivate, enhance and share the African and African American experience at Starbucks, one partner and one customer at a time.

“Starbucks Black Partner Network has evolved from being a social network to being true partners with the business,” said Mills. “We’ve been pulled in to help better engage our customers with product development and to help attract top talent from our community.”

The network has also reached out to partners who work in Starbucks® retail stores and field offices with field chapters in Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Memphis. More are planned for Houston, Chicago and New York. Members and colleagues take part in community service projects on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and at schools and neighborhood centers throughout the year. They also build ties to the community by volunteering with local organizations such as the YMCA.

During the holidays, the work of the Black Partner Network to build a sense of community and celebrate African culture takes special meaning with the celebration of Kwanzaa. The holiday was created in the 1960s to celebrate African and African American community and culture, its name is taken from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanzaa for “first fruits.”

Each day of the weeklong celebration, which is observed December 26-January 1, is dedicated to one of the seven principles of African heritage: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani).

And each evening, family members gather to light candles on the kinara, a candelabra with seven branches. The holiday culminates in a feast on New Year’s Day, often with symbolic foods of black-eyed peas, greens and yams.

Powell grew up celebrating Kwanzaa, and has memories of clearing out the gutters in her neighborhood in the spirit of Ujima, collective work. “We would go out as a family with a rake. It was a something little we can do for our community.” She carries on today, gaining meaning from each of the day’s observations that she carries throughout the year.

Although Mills did not celebrate Kwanzaa growing up, it’s a tradition he’s chosen to observe now that he has his own family.

“I grew up with a connection to the black community’s activist community, and my dad was a part of the struggle early on,” said Mills. “When I had my own family, I decided Kwanzaa was something I wanted to observe. It has so much meaning.”

This holiday, Starbucks is offering a limited edition Kwanzaa Starbucks Card. Available in participating stores and online at

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