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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Starbucks disrespect of our community and Black Expo observations

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In a week when strengthening Black-owned business was a major topic at Indiana Black Expo, Starbucks stuck a dagger into Indianapolis’ African-American community.

Despite passing out frozen treats in Expo’s Exhibit Hall, Starbucks virtually abandoned Indianapolis Black neighborhoods announcing that all but one Starbucks located in Indianapolis Black-majority neighborhoods would be closed.

The Starbucks at 16th and Sharon in Haughville, 38th & Meridian and the two co-owned with Magic Johnson at Fall Creek and College and on West 38th are closing. Only the Starbucks at Kessler Boulevard and Michigan Road that’s been open a few months was spared.

Of the seven closing Starbucks in Indianapolis, four are in Black-majority neighborhoods.

Especially hard hit were Magic Johnson’s 120 Starbucks nationwide. Nineteen are closing, or 15.8 percent of that total. But nationally, just 600 company owned Starbucks out of 7,087, or 8.5 percent are closing. So, Black-owned Starbucks suffered a disproportionate share of the closings.

Eric Holman, president of Magic Johnson enterprises told the Chicago Tribune, “The decision to close the stores was Starbucks’…Magic Johnson is disappointed in the decision.”

Holman also told the Wall Street Journal that Johnson’s talking with Starbucks about “applying additional filters to be certain that closure is the only option.”

I asked Starbucks to comment on their apparent abandonment of our Black community. In an e-mail response, Kimberley Thompson, Starbucks corporate store development manager, diversity, said, “We recognize that there are stores in African-American communities that will be impacted.”

Thompson added, “We do not intend to abandon these communities. It is our intention to continue to review opportunities in these communities and return at the appropriate time.”

But Thompson flatly refuses to share with Indianapolis city and Black leaders why Starbucks in Black neighborhoods were closed.

Starbucks talks a good game about diversity and inclusion, but their decision to close says to Indianapolis’ Black-majority neighborhoods, “We don’t want your business.”

Starbucks’ stuck-up attitude should cause Black folks to consider taking their coffee “jones” someplace else.

Starbucks maltreatment of our community didn’t dampen Black Expo week.

On balance, this year’s 38th Black Expo seemed successful, but major, major problems remain.

For the first time in years, Expo took financial responsibility of a major concert. Something Expo’s board had previously sworn never to do again. And that concert proved a major public embarrassment.

Buyers of $55 and $65 tickets expected assigned seating, but seats were labeled general admission and ushers told people to sit anywhere. Sound check occurred while concertgoers took their seats.

The concert was scheduled for 7 p.m., but the first headliner didn’t perform until after 8:30 p.m. Two major acts performed for about an hour. But headliner Keisha Cole, who’s increasingly gaining a national reputation as a spoiled puerile diva brat, didn’t take the stage until after midnight and then for just 30 minutes.

Indianapolis Star music critic David Lindquist accurately described the debacle. In my memory, Expo’s first concert misfortune in years.

Other problems. Numerous major sponsors complained about Expo’s lack of customer service. Sponsors received promised tickets, credentials and services late.

One of the most egregious examples? A major Indianapolis corporation and loyal Expo sponsor bought their Job Fair booth in March. But on Job Fair day it was placed in an “overflow” room across from the main event in the 500 Ballroom. Despite the best Job Fair turnout in years, this sponsor, relegated by Expo to a virtually invisible location, saw almost no one.

Is this how Expo treats a loyal sponsor who bankrolled a prestigious Expo event three years ago? This sponsor disrespect has finally got to end.

On another front, in this history making election year, for the first time, Black Expo allowed partisan political messages during the Corporate Luncheon as videos from Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama were shown.

McCain’s video was generic, featuring him with African-Americans, while Obama’s video was customized with references to Indiana, Indianapolis, and Expo’s president. Besides the videos, two surrogates spoke.

Renee Amoore, a successful Black entrepeneur and Republican activist from Pennsylvania represented McCain. Some felt her remarks were defensive, assuming her audience was hostile to her candidate.

Amoore’s eloquence was no match for Obama’s representative, actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph whose enthusiastic, passionate presentation thoroughly outclassed Amoore.

But Ralph’s Obama visibility rankled some top state officials as she was brought to Expo by the Indiana State Department of Health’s Black and Minority Health Fair.

In his first Expo as mayor, Greg Ballard was extremely visible. Last week I mentioned the mayor attended the first four major Expo events (Ecumenical Service, Gala, Prostate Cancer walk/run and his Business Breakfast). The mayor also attended some of the business conference events and spoke at the luncheon. And continued his predecessor’s practice of having mayoral staffers man a booth providing information on the city.

Gov. Mitch Daniels also had a strong presence at Black Expo. Not only did his cash rich campaign have an exhibit hall booth, but he shined at his Governor’s Expo Reception. After speaking at the Corporate Luncheon, Daniels toured Expo’s Job Fair and the opening night of the InShape Indiana Black and Minority Health Fair, which also opened strong.

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman also toured the exhibit hall and Health Fair on Friday.

Not to be outdone, Democrats were highly visible at Black Expo.

Obama campaign volunteers roamed inside and outside Expo registering voters. Obama T-shirts and gear were everywhere.

Democratic governor candidate Jill Long Thompson, attorney general candidate Linda Pence and superintendent of public instruction candidate Dr. Richard Wood all toured Expo Saturday. Wood was particularly impressive when interviewed on WTLC-AM (1310’s) “Unity in the Community.”

County Treasurer Mike Rodman, Auditor Billie Breaux and Assessor Greg Bowes manned the county commissioners’ booth. (They are Marion County’s commissioners).

And after working hard in Washington the first part of the week, Congressman Andre Carson was visible all weekend in the Exhibit Hall.

Finally, the number of adult arrests at Expo was perhaps the lowest level in many years. Just 32, down by 58 percent from 2007. Downtown violence was also at a very low level.

But complaints and confusion about the curfew sweeps, particularly minutes after Expo’s Teen Bling had dismissed are raising community questions.

Let the planning begin for next year.

See ‘ya next week.

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915 or by e-mail at ACBROWN@AOL.COM.

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