BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Community activism is nothing new in Birmingham. But in one neighborhood, a recently opened Starbucks has given community activists a welcome spot to gather.
In late August, Starbucks opened a community store on the city’s west side at Crossplex Village in the Five Points West neighborhood. Community stores are part of a special Starbucks initiative to support youth and economic development in diverse, underserved areas of the country. Each community store seeks to hire from the neighborhood, partner with local women- and minority-owned businesses and to provide in-store job training for young people ages 16 to 24 who aren’t in school or working.
Once upon a time, the west side of Birmingham was where everything happened, said Deidre Clark, a shift supervisor at the new store.
“It’s where people came to go shopping and to go to restaurants,” Clark said. “I look forward to the west side kind of reclaiming itself and its complete narrative. Right now, if you turn on the news you hear anything from this person got shot to these apartments got burned down. You hardly ever hear about the good things, or about the people who put in a lot of hard work to make this community more beautiful and more beneficial. This is where my heart is.”
Clark is herself a community activist. She founded a non-profit called Kuumba Community Art, which helps pair artistic high schoolers with businesses who need things designed but can’t afford big agency prices. The companies get creative – letterhead, logos or ads – and the students get paid as well as getting pieces for their portfolios. Clark started the non-profit in part to honor her creative older brother, who was murdered when he was 18 and she was 12.
“He was at a party, and a fight broke out over a girl. Everybody ran, and he got shot in the back,” Clark said. “His name was Marlon, but everybody called him Pee Wee. I have no idea where that came from. Some days I remember him, and I just laugh. Some days, it’s just really, really hard. I’m glad today is a laughing day.”
She often wonders what her brother would have done with his creative talents, and what he would have gotten into were his talent nurtured.
“I thought, ‘What if I created a space for students like him – students who are creative but not engaged in other things after school.’ I settled on graphic design because of the lack of diversity in the industry generally, but specifically here in Birmingham,” she said.
On a recent evening, Clark finished her shift at the store and moved to a table on the store’s outdoor patio to interview a steady stream of high school students for Kuumba’s next cohort. She said she’s excited for all the change and revitalization in the neighborhood while being sensitive to gentrification and preserving its history.
“We do like to make sure people know the neighborhood is not a blank slate for them to come and dream up whatever it is they have. It’s already rich in history and culture. You need to be able to reckon with that, reconcile that, and be respectful. Progress doesn’t come without stress, difficulties, and tension, but we’re doing it in the best way we can, and conversation is always the key,” Clark said. “Some parts of my life are very binary – it either is, or it ain’t. But for things like this, it can be an ‘and.’ Starbucks can come and prosper here, and the people of the neighborhood can enjoy it and feel like they belong.”
Here is a photographic day in the life of the new Birmingham community store, shot shortly after it opened in October. Just a few months later, the store is already starting to become a gathering place for artists and dreamers, community movers and shakers, and a place where big ideas are born.
Artists, activists and community members mingle on the patio at a Starbucks Community Store event put on by Elevators, a Birmingham-based social enterprise company working for the inclusion and advancement of people of color in the “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” The Elevators event at included a DJ, art on display from local creators and voter education and registration.
Starbucks shift supervisor Deidre Clark is shown at the new Starbucks Community Store in Birmingham. Behind her is the store’s custom mural, commissioned for the space from Birmingham-based artist Debra Riffe.
The Elevators-sponsored event at the Starbucks Community Store also included the unveiling of a new “Little Entrepreneurial Library” that will live in one corner of the store. Elevators founder Carmen May created the library to help local entrepreneurs who may not be able to afford to buy books on business. “I like social experiments. I wanted to see how people would behave. Would people take books? Would they read them? Would they request new ones? It not only benefits people who don’t have access to these types of materials, but there’s a community-building aspect to it, too.”
The community event included representatives from Woke Vote, an organization dedicated to voter education, mobilization and outreach, particularly among African American millennials.
Starbucks assistant store manager Gary Harville and store manager Tammy Hudson pose in the window at the new Starbucks Community Store in Birmingham's West End. “It doesn’t have to be big, worldwide change, like ‘Oh man, Starbucks moved in and my life changed,” Harville said of the new store. ”It’s the slow, consistent kindness share and service-giving that have changed my perception of who I could be, and what this place could be to other people.”
A DJ spins records as artists, activists and community members mingle at the new Starbucks Community Store. The new storefront is intended to create pathways of opportunity for young people through training programs and other events that encourage community growth.
Starbucks has also partnered with The Dannon Project in Birmingham to launch a unique retail and life skills training program for local youth, using a specially designed classroom space within the new store.
Attendees spill out of the store and onto the patio at a recent Birmingham community event sponsored by Elevators. The Starbucks Community Store initiative complements Starbucks ongoing commitment to hire, empower and engage 100,000 opportunity youth, the estimated 4.6 million young people in the U.S. ages 16 to 24 who are not in school nor employed, by 2020. Since 2015, the company has hired more than 50,000 opportunity youth, and through its foundation, invested in more than 125 nonprofit organizations that are breaking down barriers to opportunity for young men and women in communities across the U.S.
The Starbucks motto adorns the wall of the classroom space in the Birmingham Community Store. The company will open its next community store – the 12th nationwide – in Dallas, Texas, this week at the Red Bird Mall. Since announcing the Community Store initiative in 2015, Starbucks has opened similar community stores in Ferguson, Mo.; Englewood in Chicago’s Southside; East Baltimore; Miami Gardens; Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Seattle’s White Center. The company will open two others soon, in New Orleans and near Atlanta, with more coming over time.