‘Rise together’: After mass shootings, Starbucks partners gather to grieve, offer support

Starbucks partners standing together for the Partner Open Forum inside Starbucks headquarters

Following several weeks of tragic violence at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a church in Laguna Woods, California; and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, Starbucks partners (employees) from all over the country gathered in a Partner Family Forum on Thursday. To grieve together, to express what they’d written or said to their families, to share resources around civic engagement, to vow to continue to remain in community and to demonstrate support and hope for each other.

“Where do we go from here? What’s next? We have to move forward,” urged Dennis Brockman, Starbucks chief inclusion and diversity officer. “We cannot allow hate, violence to distract us. We must move forward and we have the power to change this. We cannot normalize, tolerate and accept this. We must rise together, and we are 400,000 (Starbucks partners) strong. We have a voice.”

Thousands of Starbucks store and support partners joined the hybrid forum virtually or in person to spend time together and listen to each other in the wake of the recent mass shootings. Howard Schultz, Starbucks chief executive officer, spoke from the New York Regional Office, while Brockman talked at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle. Other partners joined from various locations around the country.  

“We’re here today because it’s important for us to do this, take a step back from our daily work and responsibility to be together,” Schultz said, “and to be kind to each other, love each other, respect each other and hope for a better day.”

Traci York, a vice president of regional operations, said Starbucks partners in Uvalde and nearby communities like Eagle Pass and San Antonio are showing up with food and drinks for hospitals, families and first responders.

“We’re all unbelievably angry, tired of all of this (but) the humanity for which our partners show up has been amazing,” York said. “Know that we're going to be here and we're going to continue to be here. We will stay really close and show love and support for the town and everyone here.”

Kathryn and Adam Hallberg, siblings and Starbucks partners, remembered their grandmother – who was among 23 people killed during the 2019 shooting at a Walmart in their hometown, El Paso, Texas – and shared how they began to heal. Kathryn Hallberg, a store manager in San Antonio, said she continues to pattern herself after her grandmother – a single mother of seven children, “a wonderful human being... very much a matriarch, a strong woman.”

“Although we miss them and it hurts, there is healing, there are ways to make it better,” she said. “Part of the ways are being here at Starbucks, being an ally, living our Mission and Values every day, and providing that opportunity for many other people… That’s my ask, to continue to be the community we need and to hold on to each other.”

Ken Mcdonough, a district manager in Houston, said his 70-year-old mother, who is Chinese, was afraid to travel to see her newborn grandchild, in part because of the recent attacks against Asian American women. But he implored partners to nonetheless look for the good in others and in the world – and to be part of helping create positive change.

“We can’t be divided,” he said. “Sometimes, we need to shut down the hate and look for the good. We should and must be part of that good. We can learn from each other, we can be kind, we can support each other, and we can stand up for each other.”

As they spoke, hundreds of other partners poured their thoughts and emotions into the virtual chat spaces – poems they’d written to their families, conversations they’d had with their kids, ideas for what it means for a corporation to take the lead on change, links to civic engagement, opinions on gun control, words of encouragement for the speakers.

“Connect with each other, partners!” said one. “Gather over coffee. Gather on your back porches. Gather together and look at this problem. There is magic when we come together. We don’t need to start with the answers… we just need to start and the answers will find us.”

“We do have a role to play,” said Schultz at the closing. “We have an extraordinary platform.”

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Coffee & Connection: Stories from Starbucks Origin Experience 2024 in Costa Rica