Howard Schultz wants to introduce you to a better side of America.
The Starbucks executive chairman (and former CEO) believes the country isn’t just the one you see on TV or in your social feeds. It’s not just the dark times we’ve treaded since the 2016 presidential election, or the hate churning in and out of Washington.
It’s also the ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others in their communities. And that’s exactly what the new season of Upstanders, Starbucks’ original series of short films, hopes to document.
Starbucks announced Upstanders Season 2 on Monday, which features 11 “stories” about Americans showing acts of courage and humanity across the country. From the executive chef who quit his job to start a restaurant staffed by former juvenile detention inmates, to the entrepreneur addressing poverty in his hometown, Upstanders offers little vignettes that will (hopefully) inspire you to give back, too.
Season 1 of the series launched within the Starbucks app in September 2016, ahead of the presidential election. According to Schultz, it reached more than 60 million people. Season 2, however, will also stream on Amazon Prime Video as individual 5-10 minute episodes, as well as a full-length documentary.
Facebook will also feature Upstanders in its new Watch video platform, making Starbucks the first non-media company to deliver content in this way, and Audible will turn it into an audiobook, narrated by Creed actor Michael B. Jordan, free for Audible subscribers. As a result, Schultz expects the new season to reach upwards of 100 million people.
Schultz wrote and produced each episode of Upstanders, while Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Starbucks senior vice president of public affairs, acted as executive producer.
“Every one of these stories, as in Season 1, is threaded into a level of compassion, empathy, kindness, and also sorting through one’s one level of unconscious bias,” Schultz said.
“We’re not preaching. We’re not selling. We’re just sharing.”
“There’s a lot to be learned from the actions of these people — the behavior — at a time in America when we’re witnessing a level of a lack of civility and respect and so much vitriol.”
He added that this isn’t supposed to be marketing. There’s no Starbucks branding in the series, and there’s no product placement. For him, this isn’t about selling more coffee or driving more people into Starbucks.
“This is what we view the role and responsibility of a public company should be today. And that is not only to create financial performance and shareholder value, but also to add value back to our society at a time when I think we really need it. We’re not preaching. We’re not selling. We’re just sharing,” Schultz said.
Chandrasekaran said one episode from the new season that sticks out in his mind is “From War to Montana.” The short film focuses on Mary Poole, who convinced her community in Montana — one of only two states that didn’t participate in a refugee resettlement program — to welcome refugees into Missoula.
Poole had no background in foreign policy or government affairs. She worked as an arborist. But when she saw the viral photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, while she was breastfeeding her 9-month-old son, she knew she had to take action.
“People are solving problems and they are innovating.”
She started talking to her community, especially people who disagreed with her on accepting refugees, and tried to explain her side. She started a nonprofit called Soft Landing Missoula, and today there are more than 100 refugees living in Missoula because of her.
“Too often we look at Washington and say people in our country cannot have thoughtful conversations with one another. We’re screaming, we’re so far apart,” Chandrasekaran said.
“Howard and I have found in cities and towns across this country that people are having, at times, difficult conversations about difficult issues, but in a polite and respectful way. People are solving problems and they are innovating.”
Alongside the launch of the new season, the Starbucks Foundation announced the “Upstanders Challenge,” through which anyone can create a 1-3 minute video about their favorite charity and what makes it an “Upstander.” You can submit the video to the Upstanders Challenge page, and share it on social media.
The Starbucks Foundation will award 25 winning nonprofits with $25,000 grants each. The contest will run through Oct. 31, and the winners will be announced on Nov. 30.
These were just “people being in service of others.”
Schultz hopes the new season of Upstanders motivates people to understand the power of kindness and humanity, and that the narrative coming out of Washington does not define America. Chandrasekaran also wants people to see themselves in these stories, be inspired to engage in positive change in their communities, and help move the country forward.
Schultz shared the entire 11-episode series with his family Sunday night. His son’s biggest takeaway? These were just “people being in service of others.”
“I think that was the perfect kind of summation of what an Upstander is,” Schultz said. “Being in service of others, for no other reason and no other glory than to help another person.”