Michelle Saahene said she immediately recognized the racism inherent in the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks last month.
“I was shaking and sweating because I was so upset,” Saahene, 31, told the Daily News Friday.
Saahene, who is black, was the first person to confront police when they arrested Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson for asking to use the bathroom while waiting for a business meeting at the cafe.
“They didn’t do anything,” she said, as police led the men outside in handcuffs. “He asked to use the bathroom and the woman said it was for paying customers only. They didn’t do anything.”
Millions of people have heard her voice, thanks to Melissa DePino, who shared a video of the arrest on social media.
“She was the one who stood up and said something out loud. She got my attention and gave me the courage to put the video on Twitter and call out racism,” DePino, 50, told the Daily News.
Now, thanks to both of them, people across the nation are talking about the incident.
The two women, who met on April 12, have since become friends and have launched an initiative to desegregate social media, called From Privilege to Progress.
DePino believes that because she is white, the video reached a community that might not otherwise have known about the altercation.
“We know our social networks are highly segregated,” she said. “People of color have been talking about and sharing these kinds of things forever, but this video’s viral-ness started a national conversation,” she said.
The new friends’ goal is to encourage people of all different backgrounds to join the national conversation about racism and amplify the voices of people of color — particularly on social media channels.
“I want people to learn and understand that these things go on every single day right in front of their faces,” Saahene said. “If you care about treating everyone equally, you have to have conversations and speak up when you see something,” she said.
DePino also thinks white people should become regular participants in the dialogue on race.
“If we can get white people to post about race, in their white networks, then we can infiltrate and desegregate these networks. Then there will be more conversations about everyday racism,” she said.