By Heidi Peiper and Alisha Damodaran / Starbucks Newsroom
Birmingham, Alabama. It was the site of lunch counter sit-ins, children’s crusades, and protests at City Hall. It was where the world watched as demonstrators marched in the streets, braving police dogs and fire hoses in their fight for freedom. It was where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from his jail cell, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Their activism would spark a movement. President John F. Kennedy would say, "The events in Birmingham ... have increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them."
And it’s Birmingham where Starbucks is opening a new Community Store, with an aim to enhance community engagement and help build awareness for the history of the civil rights movement.
It’s part of an ongoing Starbucks initiative to support economic development in diverse, underserved communities across the United States, like in Ferguson, Mo. and Bed-Stuy, N.Y., by creating local jobs, providing in-store training opportunities for youth, and working with local minority-owned businesses.
Located at 2401 CrossPlex Blvd. in Birmingham’s Ensley community, Starbucks 11th Community Store will open on Friday with a team of 30 partners, all of whom are from the Ensley area.
Meet three Starbucks partners at the new Ensley Starbucks store who believe that their mission is not only to serve their customers, but their community. Here are their stories in their own words.
Tammy Hudson, store manager
I am a former resident of the Ensley area until I got a job which forced me to move out of the community that I had grown to love so much. This community, for some years, has been on an economic decline. And the community is also full of youth who face several different challenges. However, all is not lost. There are several charities, revitalization projects and nonprofits in place in the community that want to bring life back to the Ensley area.
In my ministry, it is my passion to help women from different backgrounds to rediscover their self-value, as well the value in their homes and help them to re-enter the work force. I believe that if I can help one person accomplish their goal, I have helped changed their life and community.
I have hired several high school students for the Community Store. For many, it’s their first job. At the Community Store we are not just teaching them how to make a latte. Or how to run a register. We will be teaching them how to serve others. I want our store, our partners, to be a place they can come to get encouragement and help. I’m just overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation because the vision that I have for this location is: To be a safe place in community where our neighbors can get a cup of coffee, a smile and lot of love!
Gary Harville, assistant store manager
My folks moved to Ensley and my dad began working for Birmingham Southern Railroad just before I was born. I remember being a freshman at Ramsay High School and wanting to leave Birmingham, and then, as a freshman at Birmingham-Southern College, never wanting to be anywhere else.
In college, I took a course about race and gender. As a requirement, we were tasked with achieving a certain number of volunteer hours at a local nonprofit organization and report back on our experience. I volunteered at Urban Ministries in West End, which is not too far from Five Points West and the Community Store. There, and in this course, I was told you can’t fix these kids’ problems. All you can do is serve. I took that to heart, and I fell in love with these kids and the community, just a few miles from where I grew up. I stayed there long enough to become part of the staff, and interim director. There was a restlessness in me to find this higher truth of serving people. Guided by a quote of T.S. Eliot, I started working in the coffee business, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
After college, while exploring other careers, I learned that a young man I’d served at Urban Ministries was gunned down. It really hurt. I felt guilty because I wanted to be there for these kids, and one I felt really close to was gone.
I felt the need to serve again, so I went back to what I knew. That’s when I found myself at Starbucks. During my interviews, [district manager] Brookelyn mentioned the Community Store, and I felt, at that moment, the two, my passion for coffee and my need to serve, came together. I thought about the blessing this store could be to a community of people who haven’t had this kind of exposure in a long time and what these experiences can do for young people there. Though some revitalization has begun, Ensley has been left out in a way. I hope Starbucks being here now will open people’s eyes to this area.
Deidre Clarke, shift supervisor
I am a daughter of Ensley. My great-great-great-grandfather, Aaron Harris, left North Carolina after the Civil War and found himself in a neighborhood in the Ensley community. The house he lived in is the exact same house that I grew up in. Ensley is a place where you can plant your feet, invest, and commit to the people who live here.
Ensley is recovering from the negative perception of others, and our own internalized negative perceptions. Tragic things have happened here. On June 2, 1994 my 18-year-old brother, Marlon was murdered. Those that knew and loved him called him Pee-wee. So many of my memories of him are of things he drew, comic book characters and typography. I always wondered if he would still be with us if he had a place to go to after school to have his creative talent nurtured. I know I can’t do anything to bring him back, but I thought, what if I created a space for kids like him? That led me to create a nonprofit called Kuumba Community Arts where we teach creativity and design to inspire young people to be brave, approach problems creatively and pursue fulfilling lives.
We know Ensley is more than what people see on TV or hear on the radio. I think this Starbucks Community Store could be a space for the community to come back together, where people can come and get to know and be known by their baristas. Where neighbors can hang out and get to know each other, strengthening neighborhood bonds again.
Starbucks can really play a role in showing people that good things and great people exist here in Ensley.