Behind the Green Apron: A year in review – Co-chair reflects on Starbucks Black Partner Network’s first year

Throughout February, Starbucks Canada is celebrating Black History Month by sharing the unique stories and experiences of its Black partners (employees) each week on Starbucks Stories.

Kimberly Robin began as a council member of the Starbucks Canada Black Partner Network from the start and has served as the network’s co-chair for the past year. She is a 4-year Starbucks partner who began her journey as a store supervisor.

Here, Kimberly discusses celebrating Black History Month, the impact the Black Partner Network has had in the year since its founding and the outcomes of the network’s efforts.

Being co-chair of the Canada Black Partner Network takes a great deal of time, passion and care, but I cannot begin to describe how rewarding the work is. As we approach our one-year anniversary as a network, it’s gratifying to look back on the last 12 months and feel proud of the meaningful change we have affected.

Our purpose within the Black Partner Network is to share and celebrate the heritage of the African diaspora and ensure our perspective is respected and our lens considered as we develop partnerships, advise on business and enrich Starbucks contributions to our customer’s communities.

As a proud Black Canadian, I have experienced moments of celebration, as well as moments of challenge, both in my personal life and in the workplace, often through microaggressions, which reinforce privilege and undermine a culture of inclusion. I have had White colleagues remark on my hair - a frequent experience for Black women. Whether it is textured or smooth it is my choice how I wear it, and that choice should not concern anyone; it does not affect my professionalism. I’ve had co-workers say to me, ‘You’re so articulate,” which gives the impression that Black people are less communicative and eloquent. When I experience microaggressions, I try to respond immediately, calling them out because denouncing these actions in the moment lets others know they will not and should not be tolerated. Silence is never the answer and is part of the reason I wanted to be involved in the BPN.

In just a year, we’ve made great strides in our purpose by educating partners about our roots through coffee tastings and engagement activations on social media. I’m particularly proud of the partner (employee) open forum we hosted last year during the difficult time following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Partners came together to grieve, express their frustrations, and stand in solidarity. They were able to freely discuss challenges they face in the workplace when encountering racist customers, and we were able to provide a space where partners could be vulnerable and share their thoughts safely. The experience was extremely emotional but incredibly important.

Feedback and sharing from this open forum helped to inform Starbucks Canada’s detailed Anti-Black Racism plan. With the help of the BPN, this plan is intended to combat inequality and stand and take action against racism at Starbucks with an immediate focus on anti-Black racism. This plan includes the first-ever mentorship program dedicated to Black Canadian youth called MentorMe Canada.  

When I reflect on the work I am doing with BPN, I think of Canadian pioneer Lulu Anderson who challenged a theatre's discriminatory policies in court after being denied entry due to her race. She challenged the status quo and fought to create change, which inspires me to be bold and unapologetic and to connect change to something bigger.

This Black History Month is particularly special to me personally and professionally, as it is the first year we are celebrating on such a large scale at Starbucks. The high level of partner engagement with BPN reaffirms the importance of the network’s initiatives and shows this work has been highly anticipated by partners.

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