It’s Been a Year Since Starbucks and I Can Finally Write

Michelle Saahene
5 min readMay 21, 2019

I was the first woman who spoke up in April 2018 when a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police because two black men were waiting to meet a business associate (before buying anything).

“Starbucks” happened over a year ago. This is the first time I’m writing publicly about more than just the details of the incident and how I felt that day. I’ve been suffering from serious perfectionism and impostor syndrome — who was I to be writing about racism? I don’t have a PhD in this stuff. I haven’t even been formally trained (besides a certification course through Cornell University on Diversity & Inclusion). When I would read the work race experts, it was founded on a lot of research over several years and sometimes decades of experience, and so I immediately told myself “You’re not good enough, yet.”

The first time I tried to write was fall of last year. Every time I would speak at an event or on TV, someone would tell me that I needed to write a book. The confidence I got from people telling me that repeatedly took me to the computer. But about five pages in, the tears started flowing. Why? Because I was writing my personal story, my history. When I looked at it on paper, I realized there was a lot of pain I hadn’t dealt with (I guess that year in therapy wasn’t quite long enough). I had more healing to do, and I wasn’t ready to share that part of myself for everyone to see. Each new memory I typed down was followed by the thought, “Damn that was actually pretty f%#&ing racist .” I realized that being the only black girl in my grade and sometimes my school for 98% of those 12 years deeply affected my self-esteem. Here I was for the very first time at 31 years old, writing about those experiences and having this really uncomfortable but ah-ha moments. Clearly, I had been very successful at suppressing those feelings.

I grew up in Palmyra, PA just outside of Hershey, aka chocolate town. But the only chocolate besides the candy was my family and just a few others. I fit in well enough, but never fully. My parents were from Ghana and I was living in a white town with it’s white washed history. I didn’t really understand where racism came from. I didn’t know what black culture was besides what I saw on TV. I didn’t feel “black enough” to reach out for friendships with other…