(L-R) Starbucks District Manager Tatiana Stockton, Regional Director Tunji Browne, District Manager Devaughn Egans, panel moderator Lauren A. Jones district manager Crystal Nelson pose for a photo after the Starbucks Executive Panel for the PAFF. (Photo by Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) hosted a panel featuring Black Starbucks executives at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on Saturday, Feb. 9. Lauren A. Jones, a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Sentinel, conducted a lively conversation between panelists: Starbucks district managers: Crystal Nelson, Devaughn Egans, Tatiana Stockton, and regional director, Tunji Browne.

“Especially right now, [being] African American leaders within the organization during this time itself is acting with courage and is really challenging the status quo,” stated Stockton. “Some of the obstacles that we have to experience or barriers [what challenging the status quo] looks like we had to break to get here is a huge testament to what that looks like to us every single day.”

The discussion covered a range of topics from Starbucks’ company mission and values, to its community partnerships and involvement, as well as career opportunities.

Jones first posed a question surrounding the anniversary of the Philadelphia incident that resulted in two Black men being arrested after the manager accused them of trespassing claiming the men refused to buy anything or leave.

Following the occurrence, Starbucks publicized that the organization would hold mandatory company-wide bias training. Nelson shared that the training did not stop there; every six to eight weeks district managers “add on new layers of unconscious bias” training to their respective stores.

“Anyone who crosses over the threshold is a guest and should be greeted with a smile,” said Stockton, who manages stores in the Fresno region.

Browne, who has worked at Starbucks in several large markets including New York, South Florida, Seattle, and Los Angeles, emphasized how hiring people that are reflective of the communities they serve can help to steer clear of similar incidents recurring.

Each panelist enlightened attendees on how the stores are involved in the neighborhoods that they serve. Individual stores under the managers’ respective regions have ongoing partnerships with various community organizations like United Way, the AIDS Walk, and A Place Called Home. Nelson shared that her region has partnered with the Compton initiative for “Starbucks Doing Good,” where employees and volunteers go to Compton to paint homes and clean up parks.

(L-R) Starbucks District Managers Tatiana Stockton, Devaughn Egans, moderator Lauren A. Jones, Regional Director Tunji Browne, and district manager Crystal Nelson speak on a Starbucks Executive Panel for the PAFF. (Photo by Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

The community partnerships are just one aspect of how Starbucks aims to uphold its mission statement, “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

“The Starbucks brand means to me opening doors,” remarked Egans. After serving in the U.S. military for over two decades, Egans successfully transitioned into a retail position within Starbucks. His takeaway message on the panel was to open doors for the next person to walk through. Each of the panelists described the impact being an authentic version of themselves and a Black executive has had on their trajectory in Starbucks.

The panel concluded with a discussion on how fellow Black executive and pioneer Earvin “Magic” Johnson chartered new paths within the Starbucks brand. In 1998, Johnson fought to open the Starbucks on W. Centinela Ave. in Ladera Heights that quickly established itself as a staple institution in the Black community.

“What he did for us is open our eyes to what’s possible and open our eyes to that demographic,” Browne said.

Starbucks is one of the premier sponsors for this year’s festival. This panel was a way for PAFF to present industry professionals. The panel was one of many in a series of panels and workshops led by academics and trendsetters discussing cultural trends as well as the hottest new topics and techniques in filmmaking and art.

PAFF is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the promotion of cultural understanding among peoples of African descent and to racial tolerance through the exhibition of film, art, and creative expression.

Since 1992, PAFF Los Angeles has showcased over 150 quality new films and over 100 fine artists and unique craft persons from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada, all showcasing the diversity and complexity of people of African descent.

For more information, please visit https://www.paff.org/.