JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Starbucks Coffee shut down locations nationwide Tuesday to conduct racial bias training at stores.
The training took place after two black men were arrested in April, accused of trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks.
A store manager called the police because the two men were sitting in the store without placing an order. A video of the incident gained viral attention, causing a controversial discussion on race.
"In an ever-changing society, we still aspire to be a place where everyone feels welcome," Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz wrote in an open letter to customers. "Sometimes, however, we fall short, disappointing ourselves and all of you."
Brandon Williams, a customer at a San Marco Starbucks, said the Philadelphia incident was troubling.
"I've seen other people just sit at places and no one bother them, so I thought it was very troubling to see someone just be sitting there, waiting for someone, and then have all that happen," Williams said.
To prevent discrimination in stores, more than 8,000 locations closed for three to four hours Tuesday afternoon for staff training. Starbucks locations in the Jacksonville area closed beginning at 2:30 p.m.
"The incident has prompted us to reflect more deeply on all forms of bias, the role of our stores in communities and our responsibility to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Starbucks," Schultz wrote. "The reflection has led to a long–term commitment to reform systemwide policies, while elevating inclusion and equity in all we do."
Training was provided to nearly 175,000 employees nationwide and added to the onboarding process for new hires. Employees gathered in small groups to discuss their personal experiences and watch a short film about racial bias.
Dr. Chris Janson, associate professor and director of the University of North Florida's Center for Urban Education and Policy, said the training was a big first step.
"The idea of helping people look through implicit bias that we all hold is long, difficult work, but they are taking the first step," Janson told News4Jax. "I think this is a pretty amazing thing that we have corporate leaders stepping up as moral voices for our society."
Starbucks has also implemented a new policy allowing anyone, whether or not they have made a purchase, to spend time in a store or use the restroom.