Local Starbucks celebrates people’s diversity through coffee

Local Starbucks celebrates people’s diversity through coffee

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Samantha Massey, manager of the local Starbucks, speaks about embracing diversity.

In response to the recent incidents of religious and sexual bias that occurred in its cafe, Starbucks of Pennington hosted an event Monday called “CommUNITY”, which featured a coffee tasting and pastry pairing. The theme was meant to show the universality of coffee itself and to reiterate  Starbucks’ commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

Samantha Massey, who serves both as a staff sergeant with the United States Air Force and has managed the Denow Rd. Starbucks in Pennington for a little over a year, hosted the afternoon event. Massey explained that, earlier this year, a newspaper containing handwritten “hateful and threatening” statements targeting various religious beliefs and sexual orientations was left by a visitor to the store. 

“There were two incidents that happened here,” said Massey, “After the second incident, I said ‘Enough is enough.’ I had to let people know that I was not going to allow this kind of thing to go on, especially after one of our partners (employees)  was targeted specifically.”

Massey went on to explain that one instance of hate-filled messages and symbols scrawled throughout a newspaper was discovered by an eighty-five-year-old customer who later confided to her that he “didn’t feel safe”. That was the last straw for Massey.

Massey explained that, earlier this year, a newspaper containing handwritten “hateful and threatening” statements targeting various religious beliefs and sexual orientations was left by a visitor to the store. 

Hopewell Township Mayor Kristin McLaughlin pledged inclusivity and safety of Township residents and visitors.

The cafe was filled at 3:30 pm with some who came especially to support their local Starbucks’ stand against hate and division. Other patrons found themselves surprised by the presentation during their afternoon pick-me-up.

Massey told those present: “As a result of these attacks, we have discontinued selling newspapers since late August. I have had to reconfigure our seating to make sure all areas are visible to cameras.”

She followed her account of what led her to schedule the talk with a brief history of coffee, highlighting its beginnings in Africa to market domination as one of the world’s most recognizable staples. Patrons sampled coffees from Sumatra and Guatemalan as well as a new flavor called Siren’s Blend, each paired with a pastry, including pumpkin scone and pain chocolat. She concluded her talk with a comparison of the coffee bean, which may look or taste different depending where it came from, with people. 

“But we are all the same people,” she said. “All the same soul.”

“I’m still shocked. Didn’t think that things like this happened here,” stated Susan Veltre, a 15-year resident of Pennington who is originally from Laguna Beach California. “I just can’t believe people still think like that.”

Another patron present, Linda Rogers stated, “I wasn’t surprised. People who are here and have lived here for a while have a hard time accepting inclusion and diversity. These attitudes have no place in the 21st century.”

The recent incidents are not the first that has occurred at this particular Starbucks. In 2016, a patron confronted another customer who was verbally abusing and harassing an African-American man waiting for his coffee. After the exchange, the customer left but not before “flipping off” the defending patron.

Pumpkin scone samples to pair with the coffee.

Massey wrapped up the coffee tasting by acknowledging some of the issues of diversity and race that Starbucks has contended with in the past. Most infamously, the incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks that made national news and sparked a day-long shut down of many cafes nationwide to address the issues with managers and partners. She also informed those present of the Starbucks efforts worldwide in providing for its farmers and workers in developing nations and their commitment to equity and fair wages across the corporation.

Massey shared, “One of the Starbucks ideals is to create a culture of warmth. I am determined to make sure that everyone who comes here feels welcomed and accepted no matter who they are.”

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Renata Barnes
Renata is the author of "The Taste Chase," MercerMe's own food review column. She's a lover of all things poetic, colorful, funny and inspiring. A native New Yorker, who grew up in Hopewell Valley and spent the better part of her adulthood back in NYC, currently finds herself in a growing love relationship with “the Valley”. Latin food, Indian saris and mehndi, French perfume, African music, Middle Eastern spices, South American jewels, Asian fabrics and anything from just about any island (maybe not Riker’s Island) are things that remind her to go out and taste the world, live passionately and always wear deodorant. The mother of one rambunctious boy and the wife of a mellow fellow, Renata tries to put her too many years of university and her film and writing talents to good use here in NJ. “I’ve spent too much time trying to fit in some where when I probably belong everywhere. That slow revelation has been freeing.”

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