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Racial Profiling Incident At Forever 21 Leads To Remarkable Partnership For Non-Profit Group

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A Bay Area couple who accused Forever 21 employees of racial profiling nearly a year ago on Friday said that the popular youth clothing retailer has done more than just apologize since the incident.

"It led to an amazing partnership," said Richard "Big Rich" Bougere.

He and and his wife, Danielle Banks, said Forever 21 didn't just say it was sorry after employees at the Union Square store called police on the couple and six interns they were mentoring. Executives met with the couple and started what would become a year-long collaboration of positive changes in the company and community.

Last July, the founder of Project Level took to social media to document the moments after San Francisco police were called to investigate whether the group had been shoplifting.

Officers never found any stolen merchandise in their bags and they were subsequently let go. But when Big Rich said they didn't received an apology from the store manager, he decided to take out his cell phone.

"Forever 21 just accused us of stealing after spending thousands in this store," he said in his video last year. "We've got too much money, too much influence, too much power to ever steal from anywhere."

After the incident, Forever 21 executives met with the couple and learned they ran Project Level, a non-profit organization in San Francisco that changes the lives of underserved and at-risk youth through the arts. They were at Forever 21 shopping with members as they had done for the organization many times before.

Big Rich said that the company has since asked them to help rewrite its human resources policies to include sensitivity training and diversity at the top.

But that's not all. The couple said Forever 21 gave Project Level youth members the opportunity to spearhead -- from start to finish, from design to marketing -- a new clothing collection that is set to launch July 30th.

"They said not only are we sorry, but we don't want this next generation of young folks to not feel included and to not feel like they have a place in these systems," Banks said.

The collection will appear in Forever 21 stores in several cities, including Atlanta, New York, Miami and the Bay Area.

In fact, on Friday, Big Rich and Banks were overseeing a photo shoot with its young members for the collection that happened to fall on Juneteenth, which was being commemorated across the Bay Area.

The couple said that well before many companies recently began to voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement and Juneteenth, Forever 21 was already paving the way to involve youth and prove it could be inclusive.

"Shopping while black is real," Big Rich said. "It all happened for a reason, and we feel like this collection can really help us heal and also give us hope for what could happen for the future."

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