The time is always right to do what is right.”– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Trigger Warning: the content below includes mentions of police brutality against people of color.
In May, the killing of yet another black life set off waves of protests around the world demanding change. We watched news reports of millions of people globally calling an end to violence for people of color everywhere. Here at home, it was no different. The streets of Olympia were filled with signs and murals downtown depicting the faces of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Cries of injustice and passionate calls to end systematic racism were voiced. And there was chaos. Private property was destroyed, fights broke out, people were injured. Emotions, politicizing, mass amounts of misinformation cluttered the eyes and ears of residents. All the sudden, three simple words BLACK LIVES MATTER, set off a new wave of controversy. But it doesn’t nor should it be that way.
“Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. BLM is a movement where every day, supporters recommit to healing themselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported. BLM supporters acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities.”
Black Lives Matter Website, What We Believe : https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/
It DOES NOT mean, cops lives don’t matter. It also DOES NOT mean that everyone’s life doesn’t matter. Of course, all lives matter. But right now, at this moment in our society, we need to acknowledge that the black community is hurting. The black community needs advocates in this world, that is so utterly broken with divisions running deeper by the hour.
Change must occur.
Peaceful allies must stand in solidarity.
Voting is essential.
That’s why whenever I passed my local neighborhood market and saw three simple words – BLACK LIVES MATTER in the window, I felt hope. If a tiny, mom & pop grocery store in the outskirts of town can get it, maybe more can too. Maybe progress doesn’t have to feel so out of reach. Seeing the words ‘Justice for George Floyd’ on our area’s famous marquee gave me a sense of pride. Immense pride for seeing progress in my own backyard. The Gull Harbor Mercantile received tons of comments in support. People deliberately stopped in to say thank you. New customers started coming in saying they had never shopped there before but want to now because of the signage.
But then the reader board changed. The BLM poster came down. A few days later, us neighbors learned that an employee was fired for wearing Black Lives Matter on her apron. Wait, what? Confusion ensued. What caused the owners to have such a sudden change of heart and to go as far as letting an employee who has worked there for over a decade go? Below that employee’s account of what happened. This is from her perspective. She encourages you to reach out to the Merc to hear their side as well.
Courtney is a Boston Harbor resident of over 20 years. She raised her amazing son Conner in the neighborhood and has deep ties to our community. She’s also been the friendly, can’t help but love her, character at the merc off and on for 13 years. She’s also an advocate. After the world watched. She knew showing public support for the black community was important. It was vital. So on her shifts at the Merc, she put those words on the marquee. She hung the BLM poster in the windows. Then one day management told her to stop. Told her that there were complaints coming in, though Courtney herself never personally heard any. The first of those alleged complaints came in the form of a text message sent directly to management from an anonymous neighbor which read:
“Take it from me, a rich white guy, no one is going to shop in your store if you keep putting up these signs.”
The text was sent directly to the manager, Ted, after this photo was seen on social media. Was it the word ‘pride’ or BLM that compelled this anonymous neighbor to 1.) identify himself as a white rich person and 2.) threaten the business itself?
That may be an answer we never know, but regardless his intimidation tactic worked. The owners of the Merc, the Kistlers demanded all signage be taken down immediately and stated the store was to remain neutral on these topics. Courtney said she felt sad, discouraged but ultimately she understood. This was and is their business. Their livelihood. So she relented. She stopped putting the BLM poster in the window and no longer did she change the marquee.
Instead, to show her support, she wore a pin on her work apron that simply read ‘Black Lives Matter’. She wore it for 3 days straight. Three separate shifts where not a word was spoken about it. Tuesday morning, she came in to find her pin had been removed from her apron by management. She was floored but had an extra BLM pin and put it on. She went out to clean the gas pumps like she’s done hundreds of times before when the manager, Ted came outside and reminded her that the store was going to remain neutral on the subject and that he respectfully asked that she remove the pin from her person. Courtney replied that she respectfully declined. That the message of BLM was important to her and caving to threatening neighbors would go against her morales. Ted then walked back inside made a phone call to his mother, Teri Kistler, an owner who arrived shortly after.
Courtney was reminded again, this time by Teri, that the store was going to remain neutral on the subject of BLM and that wearing the pin on her apron goes against that. Courtney flatly refused citing that this issue was not one in which someone can remain neutral on. This is a societal issue, one of humanity in which members of our community need support. Teri then said,
“You remove the BLM pin from your apron
or you are fired.”
Courtney held up her hands, removed her apron and clocked out for the last time ending her time as an employee of the Gull Harbor Mercantile. She stood her ground.
The Merc represented so much more to her than just a way to pay bills. It’s a community to her. It’s her friends that have become family. She loved serving her customers. She may have not always agreed politically with some of them but never did she feel anger or hatred to those who sported MAGA hats. She calls many Trump supporters her friends.
To her, this is not about politics or republican vs. democrat. Her intentions with wearing a BLM pin on her person was not to change the minds of those in opposition. Sure, if a discussion were to come up, she would openly invite a dialogue. But that was not her goal. For her, BLM is a movement of humanity and publicly supporting that type of change needs to happen because it’s about damn time.
Does she want the neighbors to boycott the Merc?
Her answer is NO. In fact, a resounding NO. She even still shops at the Merc. She knows the Merc is a source of income for a lot of neighbors and wants our community to continue to support the local farmers and producers. In her opinion, the Merc is awesome precisely because of the community it serves, those folks that bring in their local produce, the folks that knit and crochet, the local artists that sell their art. The Merc has dog bones because the community asked for them. They have gluten-free and organic items because the community requested them. The community literally defines the Merc otherwise it would just be another shell station. She believes they didn’t represent the community that made them so excellent when they chose neutral. That they missed a chance to be on the right side of history. To be on the right side of justice. Her call-to-action would be to let the Kistler family know that their actions do not represent the majority of our community. She wants calls to be made, neighbors to stop by and say they support the black community and remaining silent on such an important issue is no longer an option. She is okay with peaceful protests. This is bigger than her and her story but she wants people to know this happens and it happens in our very own backyard.
Gull Harbor Mercantile (360) 352-4014
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.– Martin Luther King, Jr.