Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Philly Starbucks Guys

A lot of the articles about Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson haven’t used their names, so I didn’t feel like putting them in the title, but I imagine many of you reading this know who I am talking about. Back in April, two black men entered a Starbucks in Philadelphia (near where I live) and asked to use the bathroom. They were told that the bathroom was only for paying customers, so they sat down to wait for a friend to join them. Then the manager called the police and asked that they be arrested for trespassing. They were later released when Starbucks did not press charges.

This story hit a nerve, in large part because it is another example of how just existing while black brings suspicion from white people and unwanted contact with the police.

The response from Starbucks was pretty decent, but that isn’t the focus of this reflection. What I found really interesting was how the two men responded to the incident and what followed. There was some media attention, and they both behaved with a lot of dignity. Ultimately, there was a settlement agreement with the city of Philadelphia. The two men took $1 for themselves, and had the city donate $200,000 to set up a foundation to help high school kids who want to become entrepeneurs.

This is what positive masculinity looks like. Two young men are profiled and then unjustly harrassed and arrested by the police. This is hardly the first time they’ve experienced racism They have a chance to profit from the situation, but instead they make a statement, and take the opportunity to make life better for kids they’ll never meet. Starbucks has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. Philadelphia has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. And high school kids have a chance to learn to become entrepeneurs, and hopefully will.

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