Starbucks' social media team sets an important tone addressing racial bias.

On April 12, two black men were arrested while waiting for their friend at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Their crime? Waiting for a friend, apparently.

The incident, caught on film, shows the two men being placed in handcuffs by police officers while confused customers tried to ask what exactly they had done wrong. The incident sparked a lot of justifiable anger and resulted in an apology from both Starbucks, and the Philadelphia police chief, a few days later.

At NBC, writer Elon James White shared an "uncomfortable truth for white America" about the incident.


"While this incident went viral, it is only remarkable because of how unremarkable it actually is," he wrote, highlighting another Starbucks video from California showing a black man being denied access to a store's restroom, while a white man was allowed in without scrutiny.

People protesting at the Starbucks where the two men were arrested. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images.

Starbucks announced plans to close all 8,000 of the company's corporate owned stores on May 29 for mandatory racial-bias training.

In a statement posted to Facebook, the company explained they were working with well-established civil rights advocates and anti-racism organizations to develop a curriculum for its 175,000 employees. The plan has gotten some majorly mixed reactions, ranging from people arguing that the Philadelphia location and police did nothing wrong, to those who think this is an important step in addressing the issue, to people who believe this is simply too little, too late.

All screenshots are from Starbucks/Facebook.

Whether the training itself will be considered a success remains to be seen. Still, the company's responses on social media have an important lesson for us all.

A lot of the time, when a company finds itself in the midst of a public relations disaster, their social media teams will come up with a few canned statements to respond to criticism on social media. Starbucks took a different approach — and has been offering personal replies to dozens of people.

Responding to criticism arguing that the Philadelphia incident was just a few bad apples, the company replied, "Because systemic racism and bias is bigger than one partner, one store or one company. We are shutting our stores for this training because we recognize that we have the responsibility to be part of the solution."

Others lamented the thought of going without their coffee for an afternoon, saying that the company's response was overblown. To that, Starbucks owned up to its less than stellar history, writing, "There are countless examples of implicit bias resulting in discrimination against people of color, both inside and outside our stores," and explaining that they have a responsibility to act.

"There was no reason for the police to be called to our Philadelphia store," they wrote to another commenter.

Another commenter used this as an opportunity to highlight legitimate grievances people and communities of color might have with law enforcement. The company responded by saying there are plans to meet with Philadelphia government and law enforcement officials to ensure this doesn't happen again. While it's not a national solution, it is something.

When someone pointed out that it shouldn't have taken a viral video for the company to get serious about fighting racial bias, Starbucks responded that the program rolling out May 29 will become part of new employee onboarding moving forward.

"Maybe train your employees on how to deal with loitering in general and not make it a color issue?" wrote another commenter. The company responded, "We cannot deny this is a race issue, which is why we are implementing this training."

Generally speaking, people should avoid calling the police in all but the most extreme cases, and Starbucks made its position on that clear in one of the responses, writing, "While there are situations where a call to police is justified (such as violence or aggressive behavior), this was not one of them."

The company was rightly wary of accepting praise for doing something it should have been doing all along. "We hope this proves to be an impactful step — one of many we know we have to take."

Yes, the manager who called the police has been fired.

Racism and unconscious biases are very real, and we'd all benefit from taking a step back and examining our own.

If one good thing comes out of what happened in Philadelphia, it's the chance for those who are white — and can't possibly know what it's like to be made to feel unwelcome in public spaces or to have our existence treated as automatically criminal on the basis of our skin color — to see the "uncomfortable truth" James mentioned in his article. This isn't a one-off incident, and it's not limited to just Starbucks. This is an everyday reality for many people of color. It's on all of us to push for a better world and to work to be our best selves.

What happened to those two men should never happen again. It almost certainly will, but it shouldn't. Take a page out of the Starbucks social media team's playbook and recognize this is a cultural problem that we have a responsibility to address — and then hold yourself accountable for your actions.

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

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This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."