This February, during Black History Month, Starbucks is proud to celebrate the unique stories of our Black partners. We honor them and we see them, and we encourage you to see them too. Move past the stereotypes, the assumptions, the misperceptions, the things you think you may know, the skin color. Get to know them as individuals. Learn the breadth and depth of their distinct lives.
Casey Hamm, 31, a Black Starbucks store manager in Louisville, Ky., was recently honored as the store manager of the quarter in his three-state region. He recently kickstarted the Louisville chapter of the Starbucks Black Partner Network and hosted a rousing open mic event on Jan. 2 that drew more than 100 people for a night of songs and poetry. Hamm wrote about his journey of growing up as a Black man in mostly white spaces, and how he learned to become a leader. Below, in his own words, he shares his thoughts on some of the key themes in his life.
On being a biracial kid with a dark complexion, growing up in London, Ky., a mostly rural community which is 95 percent white according to the latest Census demographic figures:
“I definitely always felt this otherness that was difficult to describe as a child. When the vast majority of the people who you interact with on a daily basis look different than you, it affects you, and mostly subconsciously. As a child I wasn’t very confident in much of anything, even though I usually was more than capable to do well in school and sports. I was also very quiet growing up. I got voted ‘Quietest’ out of the entire senior class by my peers. Most of my friends were white, upper middle class, lived in nice houses and came from two-parent families.
“I generally felt seen in the way that you don’t really want to – standing out because of what I look like, friends assuming I was adopted, people unsure how to interact with me, experiencing racial slurs from opposing fans at sporting events, and the list goes on.
“Thinking through my heritage and identity is something that I’m still working through, and honestly probably will be for a long time. I appreciate where I’m from and the life experiences that made me who I am, albeit difficult at times. In London, I always had everything I needed and many family friends who knew me and would do anything they could to help me and my family if we needed it. … In the same breath, London only had so much to offer this young, Black male wrestling with identity and trying to find his way the world.”
On the relationship he had with his Black father, who he has never met, and his white mother, who raised him and his twin sister, Courtney:
“I’ve never had any contact or relationship at all with my father. I don’t know who he is. There are so many young, fatherless, Black males out there who society looks down upon. Showing that we are capable of overcoming that is invaluable. Our mom basically dedicated her entire life to us when she found out she was pregnant. As a 19-year-old single mom of twins, a lot of sacrifices were made to try to give us as much as she could. We had a lot of help from family members, especially our grandparents, but our mom still did so much for us. She did the absolute best she could with the knowledge and resources she had available, which is all anyone could ever ask for.”
On what happened after he moved to Louisville and joined Starbucks as a barista in August 2013, and his journey to becoming a leader:
“Becoming a leader in the context of Starbucks was a pretty difficult transition. I had worked a lot of smaller jobs and had other leadership experience, but nothing too serious. Once I became a barista and decided to pursue upward mobility, there was a lot of learning. What does that mean to work for a major corporation and be a professional and lead a team?
“There’s a lot of me battling my self-perception, not seeing a lot of people who look like me. Being in white spaces my entire life for my formative years … there’s a perception of what a store manager or what a leader in a company is. That wasn’t me. I’m super introverted, generally soft-spoken, I don’t have a bubbly personality. I don’t fit the description in those types of ways. Internally, there’s a lot of battles: Is this the place for me?
“Once I got promoted and once I became a store manager, everything I went through, all that was worth it.”
On a quote that really resonates with him – “you can’t be what you can’t see”:
“The quote is originally attributed to Civil Rights activist Marian Wright Edelman. I first encountered the quote in discussion with my pastor a few years ago when we were discussing how the leadership in our church didn’t reflect the community we lived in. … As we brainstormed how to raise up leaders of color in our church in order to better reflect the community our church is in, that inspired me to think the same about how I can raise up leaders of color in my role at Starbucks in order further create a culture of diversity and inclusion within the company.”
On how and why he started the local chapter of the Starbucks Black Partner Network in Louisville:
“One thing that was inspiring was going to Leadership (the company’s biggest-ever gathering of employees in September 2019 in Chicago). I was able to see leaders that look like me. (Starbucks chief operating officer) Roz Brewer up on that stage. Other people, looking around, thinking, this is inspiring, this company is more diverse than it feels in Kentucky. And also (store manager) Stephanie Campfield, her story about the Trenton open mic. … One of the driving factors in starting the BPN locally is so that I can connect with other baristas and shift supervisors who might want to move up in this company, but who might not see that as an option. I was that person. I know there are a lot of people like me out there. I can use my story and my store and my resources, and show them the pathway forward and help advance their growth and development.”
On Starbucks becoming a more diverse and inclusive company:
“Progress is being made in this company; there’s no doubt about that. We’ve hired Zing (Shaw) as the chief inclusion and diversity officer. I didn’t even know that was a position before hearing about the hire in November! Our internal affinity groups, like the Black Partner Network, are also expanding and gaining influence. However, even with the progress being made, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. We need to ask real questions and discuss them earnestly – with sincere and intense conviction – and consistently – on every occasion possible – before there will be any lasting change made around diversity and inclusion. Recognizing and supporting the unique challenges many people of color may face is also urgent and imperative.”
On how he’d like to be seen:
“A husband, son, twin brother, fatherless child, someone from a small town, deacon of Sojourn Church Midtown, secretary of the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association, foster parent, local leader of the Starbucks Black Partner Network and Starbucks store manager.”