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Men arrested at Starbucks turn negative into positive in settling case

Two black men whose arrest last month at a Starbucks spurred allegations of racial bias said they’re happy with the settlements they’ve reached with the city of Philadelphia and the company – and they hope the incident is remembered for positive outcomes such as an anticipated program to encourage young entrepreneurs.

Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson settled any claims with the city for $1 each, and the city has agreed to work with the duo and a nonprofit to fund a $200,000 grant to help Philadelphia high school students develop entrepreneurial skills, the local government said.

“Looking at how we took a negative and turned it into a positive, that’s really all we want,” Robinson said Thursday morning during the duo’s interview with Good Morning America.

The details of the financial settlement Robinson and Nelson reached this week with Starbucks are confidential, the company said.

But, the parties agreed to work to “develop specific actions and opportunities” and the two men will give input to former US Attorney Eric Holder, who is working with Starbucks on its diversity efforts, the company said.

The mammoth coffee chain previously said it would close its 8,000 company-owned stores in the United States for one day, May 29, to educate employees about racial bias.

Starbucks, as part of the agreement, is also giving the men the opportunity to complete their undergraduate degrees for free through a partnership with Arizona State University.

Nelson told GMA he is encouraged by “the fact that we have a seat at the table (with Starbucks), to work on reforms that (will) be included in racial bias training.”

He said he hopes other companies take Starbucks’ lead.

The arrests

The men had initially asked to use the bathroom on April 12 at the Starbucks as they waited for a business meeting but were told the restroom was for paying customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase.

Within minutes of their arrival, a manager called police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said, they were waiting for their acquaintance.

Nelson and Robinson were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, but no charges were filed. Video of the incident went viral and ignited protests and calls for boycotts.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized for the arrests, calling them “reprehensible.”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, apologized to the men, saying he made the decision worse by initially defending his officers’ actions.

In a statement Wednesday, Johnson thanked the men for “their willingness to reconcile.”

“I welcome the opportunity to begin a relationship with them to share learnings and experiences,” Johnson said. “And, Starbucks will continue to take actions that stem from this incident to repair and reaffirm our values and vision for the kind of company we want to be.”

Entrepreneurial program

Robinson and Nelson will work with the city and a nonprofit organization to develop criteria, review applications and award the $200,000 grant, city spokesman Mike Dunn said.

The grant will establish “a pilot curriculum for public high school students to develop the skills necessary to pursue their dream of being entrepreneurs,” according to Dunn.

Robinson told GMA the grant’s aim will be to teach “not just about entrepreneurship but proper etiquette (and) proper literacy, and knowing about taxes and how to use money as a tool.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he was pleased to resolve the potential claims against the city.

“This was an incident that evoked a lot of pain in our city, pain that would’ve resurfaced over and over again in protracted litigation, which presents significant legal risks and high financial and emotional costs for everyone involved,” Kenney said in a statement.