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Two black men arrested at Starbucks settle with Philadelphia for $1 each

The two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks settled with the city for $1 on May 2. The city will donate $200,000 to support young entrepreneurs. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Two African American men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks last month have reached a settlement with the city and secured its commitment to a pilot program for young entrepreneurs.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson chose not to pursue a lawsuit against the city, Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the city of Philadelphia, told The Washington Post. Instead, they agreed to a symbolic payment of $1 each and asked the city to fund $200,000 for a grant program for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.

“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,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

Nelson and Robinson appeared on Good Morning America Thursday morning to talk about the settlement and their goals for the grant and Starbucks moving forward. Robinson said he and Nelson would take part in the company’s racial bias training and work with former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is involved in shaping the May 29 curriculum and other long-term initiatives.

Robinson said they aimed to focus the program on “our communities, our ‘under-served’ communities,” and that the entrepreneurship grant would also go toward financial literacy training.

Stewart Cohen, Nelson and Robinson’s attorney, noted that the $200,000 grant was set to last one year. Nelson he hoped the program would continue “generation after generation.”

“The most important thing is the foundation, the fact that we have a seat at the table to work on reforms, being included in the racial bias training, leading forward. And hopefully other companies take what Starbucks is putting into perspective and follow,” Nelson told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.

Cohen said that Starbucks’s chief executive, Kevin Johnson, has also offered to “personally mentor” Nelson and Robinson and continue to build a relationship with them.

Robinson also said Starbucks would help him and Nelson take courses to complete their bachelor’s degrees. At the end of the interview, Robinson asked Roberts if she would take part in their work, to which she said she would “be honored.”

“There are people out there that have other solutions, so we can keep moving forward like we really want to,” Robinson said.

Funds for the $200,000 program will come from the city’s Finance Department budget, Dunn said. The city, Nelson and Robinson will work together on developing a committee to award the grants.

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The city has also invited Robinson, Nelson and their attorneys to submit thoughts and recommendations to the city solicitor on other ways of promoting equality in public places, including restaurants and retail establishments.

Cohen, Placitella and Roth, the Philadelphia law firm representing Nelson and Robinson, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Also on Wednesday, Starbucks announced that it had reached an agreement with Nelson and Robinson that will include an undisclosed financial settlement “as well as continued listening and dialogue between the parties and specific action and opportunity.”

Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said he welcomed the chance to begin a relationship with Nelson and Robinson. “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,” Johnson said in a statement.

A company news release said more details “will be provided in a mutually agreed public statement.”

Starbucks arrests: Who gets to decide whether you’re a patron or a trespasser?

In an April 18 interview with “CBS This Morning,” Starbucks executive chairman, Howard Schultz, said he hoped to work with Nelson and Robinson and use Starbucks’s resources to advise and support their business ventures.

“We will provide them with a foundation of learning and provide them with an opportunity to be part of our company either directly or indirectly as a result of this situation,” Schultz told co-host Gayle King.

On April 12, Nelson and Robinson arrived 10 minutes early for a business meeting at a Starbucks in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia and wound up leaving the location in handcuffs. Upon arriving, Nelson asked whether he could use the restroom, and was told by a white manager that the restrooms were only for paying customers.

“And I just left it at that,” Nelson told “Good Morning America” last month.

After Nelson returned to the table where Robinson was sitting, the manager approached them to ask whether she could help get them drinks or water.

Two minutes later, she called the police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” Officers arrived a few minutes later. Robinson recalled thinking that “they can’t be here for us.”

Nelson told “Good Morning America” that the police told him and Robinson that they had to leave without any discussion. They were then arrested, and Robinson said they were not read any rights or told why they were being arrested.

Charges of trespassing and creating a disturbance were dropped that night.

Shortly after Nelson and Robinson told their story, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross personally apologized and said that if he had done anything to worsen race relations in the city, “shame on me.” Ross had previously said the officers involved “did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Last month, Starbucks announced it would close 8,000 stores for anti-racial-bias training on May 29. Johnson and Schultz met with Nelson and Robinson personally to apologize.

As protests broke out at that Philadelphia Starbucks, Johnson and Schultz appeared in television interviews to pledge that the company would work to combat unconscious bias and racial profiling among its employees.

In a video message, Johnson said, “I will fix this.”

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