Starbucks, A Teenager and Speaking Up About An Unjust Situation!


This past Monday morning started out pretty typical. I was the designated driver and it was my day to drop my daughter and one of her friends off at school. My daughter and I usually chat a little bit on the way to picking up her friend who lives a couple of blocks away. But once her friend enters the vehicle, the chatting with mom abruptly comes to an end. If you are a parent of a teenager, and in particular, a parent of a 16 year old teenage girl, then you probably know exactly what I mean. As soon as your teenagers teenage friends enter the car, the chatter and giggles between them completely take over the atmosphere and then it’s ON! They began to go back and forth sharing with each other about every single little thing that happened over the weekend that they hadn’t already shared with each other via Snapchat or Instagram.It is during times like this that a seasoned parent of teenagers knows to assume the position of being completely unengaged with the conversation between the teenagers. These are times when we go into the mode of appearing to be oblivious to anything that we hear shared during the sacred BFF before (and after) school chat sessions. Unless of course we are asked to join the conversation. But this doesn’t happen often. Over time we learn to do this dance with our teenagers after much trial and error of having found ourselves ostracized in the past for taking the liberty of inviting ourselves in and out of these kind of teenager chat sessions uninvited. This does not usually turn out the way we intend.

If you are new to this situation and have found that your teenagers have very little chatter with their friends when you’re around, it might be a possibility that you have broken this unspoken Parent/Teenager rule several times in the past and so now “mum’s the word” when you’re around. But not to worry, just give it some time. Learn the rule and abide by it and pretty soon you’ll be back in. What you will discover is that by acting like you are not paying attention, you can actually find out a LOT of information about what’s going on in the life of your teenager, their friends and a multitude of other students at school, Trust me on this one!

However, every once in a while as with all rules, there are those conversations in which there are exceptions. During these times you find that you just have to scratch the rules and invite yourself right into the conversation regardless of your teenagers rolled eyes and sighs of disappointment. You know that they will eventually get over themselves. And what I thought was going to be a typical Monday morning chat session turned out to be one of those type of days that I would be intentionally breaking the rule.

My daughter’s friend, I’ll call her Erin, was telling my daughter, I’ll call her Denise, about an incident that she experienced on the past Friday evening when her and her dad went to Randall’s, a local grocery store in our community. She had a taste for a Starbucks coffee and her father wanted some yogurt so they headed out to our neighborhood Randall’s. Erin said it was a little after 7:30 pm when she got to the Starbucks counter to request her desired beverage but she was told by the employee (who she thought was a student who attends their same high school) that Starbucks was closed.

Erin said that she was kinda surprised at the response because she thought it actually stayed open until 8pm and that she still had time to order. However since she wasn’t 100 percent sure she reluctantly said “Ok” and left the counter to go get her dad’s yogurt. After she paid for the yogurt and was heading out of the store she walked right past the Starbucks counter only to see a lady and her 2 daughters being served by the same employee that had just earlier told her the Starbucks was closed. Erin explained how she was in shock and couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She said she even walked over to the other customers and asked them if Starbucks was still open. Of course they looked at her strange because in their view it should have been quite obvious to Erin that Starbucks was still open seeing that they were standing there waiting to receive their order. After they responded “yes”, Erin said she didn’t know exactly what she should do or how she should respond so she just turned around and walked out of the store. Questioning in her mind the whole time what had just happened and wondering if she had actually just experienced what she thought she was experiencing.

You see, Erin just happens to be a 16 year old African American teenage girl, and the Starbucks employee and the 3 customers that were being served all happened to be Caucasian. Erin wondered if for the first time she had just experienced being a victim of racism at our suburban neighborhood Randall’s. Needless to say, this was not a conversation that I would be acting as if I was oblivious to its’ content. Especially considering the current racial climate in America. And also considering the fact that an injustice had been done and my internal “systematic racism” and “white privilege”radars had gone from 0 to 100 in 10 seconds flat just from listening to Erin’s share her experience.

I listened and asked for a few more details about exactly what happened. I wanted to know the facts. Erin answered my questions and then shared how she had told her Dad about what happened when she got in the car. His response was to explain to her that this is the “world we live in in America” and that “stuff like this happens everyday yet people still act like it doesn’t.” At the time, for whatever reason, he did not choose to go back inside the store to address the situation his daughter had just experienced. Although he had made that decision and I respect it, I immediately  knew that I would be going in to address the situation with the Starbucks manager. I believed strongly that this was necessary not only on Erin’s behalf, but for Denise and all the other Erin’s and Denise’s in our neighborhood that would visit this Starbucks at one time or another. Damn, I would now have to put on my “speak up for justice” hat and make an unplanned visit to the local Randall’s Starbucks counter before heading to the walking path to get my Fibit 10,000 steps in for the morning. Thus is life!

As Erin and Denise exited the car I smiled and told them to have a great day at school. And then I was off on my mission to speak with the manager of the local Starbucks. When I arrived, as with most Starbucks at 7
:30 am on a Monday morning, there was of a line. Fortunately there were only 2 people ahead of me though and that was good. This would give me just enough time to go over in my mind exactly would I would say to the manager. Thank God for my Unity Toastmasters involvement and all those Table Topic discussions that I’d participated in over the last 6 months.

When it was my turn at the register I explained that I wasn’t there to order coffee but rather needed to speak with the manager who looked up upon hearing my request. He wrapped  up what he was doing and immediately came from behind the counter to speak with me.  We introduced ourselves to each other and sat down at a nearby table to talk. I calmly shared with the manager, about  Erin’s experience and explained that I thought it was very important and necessary for me to come in and let someone know what happened so that it wouldn’t happen again.

The manager expressed his sincere appreciation for me taking the time to come in and speak with him about what happened to Erin. He said that he’d be checking the records to see who was working that night and would also check the camera to see what happened for himself. He assured me that he would be speaking to the employee about the situation. He mentioned how his concern was that perhaps the employee had not been properly trained, and that he would make sure that she was retrained on properly providing service to every Starbucks customer who frequents the store. He then offered to give me a gift card to give to Erin along with his name. He asked that the next time she comes to the store to ask for him because he would like to speak with her personally and extend his sincere apology for what happened. He also insisted on treating me to a drink as well.

I finally gave in after the third offer and ordered an Iced Berry Sangria that I figured I would sip on AFTER I finished getting my 10,000 steps completed. I thanked him for his time and for his commitment to do what is required to help make sure that what happened to Erin wouldn’t happen again. I was thankful for his receptivity. It made me ponder about what an absolutely powerful positive impact we would have in our world if we all just had the courage to “speak up” and “speak” out when we witness, or when we are made aware of an unjust situation no matter how great or small. In reality I know that there will never be a time when “all” of us will speak up about injustice. However, I remain hopeful that perhaps more and more of us will have the courage to “speak up” and to “speak out” about any injustices that we are made aware of when life presents us with the opportunity to do so! I know I will continue to do so. How about you?

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