The University of Nevada, Reno, hosted “From Privilege to Progress” on Tuesday, Jan. 22 with Melissa DePino and Michelle Saahene, founders of a national anti-racism movement sparked after two African-American men were arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks in April 2018.
DePino and Saahene founded the movement after witnessing the event at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Saahene spoke out against the treatment of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson while DePino filmed the incident. Their movement aims at combating racism by teaching individuals the power their privilege can have on others.
“The word privilege is very charged,” DePino said. “There is so much defensiveness and guilt with that word. The fact is if you walk around America with white skins, this country was made to help you. It’s systemic, not personal.”
In April 2018, a video of Nelson and Robinson being arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia became viral. The two men asked a barista to use the restroom before a business meeting. The men were declined and told only paying customers can use the restrooms. Afterward, Nelson and Robinson decided to wait at a table without purchasing anything in the coffee shop. A manager then called the police because the men told the manager they did not want to leave. In response, Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson temporary closed approximately 8,000 stores for four hours in order to educate their employees on race relations.
“We reached out to Starbucks several times,” Saahene said. “They didn’t really want to talk to us. We wanted to work with them but they wanted to do their own training. The training is on a screen rather than in person. People need to face their unconscious bias.”
DePino and Saahene urge allies to help desegregate the conversation with race and wants more people to be aware of race relations than ignoring the problem. They say this can start by learning, speaking up and amplifying on social media.
“What happened that day was important but what happened after that was also important,” Melissa DePino said.”These conversations have been happening with people of color for a long time. As allies, we need to learn and help desegregate that conversation. There are so many people who are so aware and not doing anything about it.”
From Privilege to Progress hopes to bring their program to the international community to help race relations in other parts of the world.
“Everyone’s voice has power,” Saahene said. “We just have to find the opportunity and take a stab at it. Every time we do one of these events, we see some change.”
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.