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Starbucks Embarks On National Diversity Initiative In Ferguson

The program will also partner with a nonprofit and offer customer service training.
A Starbucks is set to open in Ferguson, Missouri in the spring of 2016. The company is also partnering with the owner of a lo
A Starbucks is set to open in Ferguson, Missouri in the spring of 2016. The company is also partnering with the owner of a local bakery whose business was burned and vandalized last year.

Community leaders, entrepreneurs, residents and corporate employees gathered Thursday, November 19 for the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Starbucks in Ferguson.

The Ferguson location, set to open in spring 2016, is part of Starbucks’ new diversity initiative. Within the next three years, the Fortune 500 coffee company plans to open 15 new stores in diverse medium- to low-income communities across the country. The new locations will partner with local minority women-owned suppliers.

Partnering with Starbucks in Ferguson is Natalie Dubose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More. Last November, Dubose’s bakery was among the businesses in Ferguson and Dellwood that were burned and vandalized following the St. Louis County prosecutor’s announcement that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown Jr.

Dubose set up a GoFundMe account which received more than $200,000 in donations. Natalie’s Cakes and More’s “signature caramel cakes” are currently being sold at a dozen local Starbucks.

“It was this time last year that we were cleaning up glass and cleaning up debris on the strip of South Florissant Road,” Dubose said. “It was a lot of tears that day, but at the same time it was a lot of love shown that day.”

Rodney Hines, Starbucks Community Investment Retail Operations partner, who is leading the diversity initiative, says it’s commitment to collaborations in the community “that’s really going to help address the opportunity divide that exists within Ferguson and beyond.”

Within the next year, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Chicago, and the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York will receive new Starbucks sites as part of the diversity initiative.

In 2011, the company launched a $5-million loan program for small businesses called “Create Jobs For USA.”

Unique to the Ferguson location, however, is Starbucks’ first job training program.

“It’s a program we’ll be offering up with a local nonprofit and offering customer-service training,” said Hines. “That’s a skillset we think you can take to Starbucks or anywhere.”

Alisha Wrencher, 36, who has worked with Starbucks for over 15 years, will manage the Starbucks in Jamaica Queens, which will be the first store in the initiative to open.

“I started as a barista and from then on continued to grow within the company,” Wrencher told The American. “It’s been an amazing journey with lots of opportunities. I started off at 18 years old and became a store manager at 20.”

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said he is grateful to Starbucks and developers Otis & Clark Properties for recognizing the city’s need for investment, in the wake of unrest and the light it cast on the entrenched problems in north St. Louis County.

“With all the things we’ve learned over the past year, I think it’s important that we realize that both our urban communities and our suburban inner-ring communities need investment,” Knowles said. “They need economic development.”

For Dubose, the partnership with a national brand was more good news that came from bad.

“I’m just grateful that at this time so much has happened,” Dubose said. “So many good things have happened. The sun does shine after that storm.”

The story is published as part of a partnership between The St. Louis American and The Huffington Post.

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