“They can’t say yes or no unless you ask first,” I told myself as I parked the car in front of the store. Giving myself this pep talk propelled me to quickly grabbed my poster and walk inside the Cherrydale Hardware store. To my left was the checkout counter with two men behind it. One was by a machine making a shrill, metal sound. “He’s making a key”, I thought. The other was selling a snow shovel to a middle-aged woman. Once the metal-cutting sound stopped, I heard the words, “Can I help you?”
I quickly found my voice and blurted out, “I’m from Dorothy Hamm Middle School. My students entered the Martin Luther King essay, poem, and art contest and I made this poster of their entries. I wonder if you would hang in it your store for Martin Luther King’s Birthday?” Then I took a breath, awaiting a response.
“I don’t see why not. Let me ask my boss,” and he disappears behind the far aisle and returns a minute later with another man.
“Sure. How about right here by the door?” and he motioned to a cluttered area right behind me. In fact, the entire store was cluttered. This particular area he was motioning to contained an assortment of signs – No Parking, For Sale, Kids At Play – on one side and a container of American Flags on the other. In between, stood three empty gumball machines. He scooted the machines back to touch the back of the wall and motioned for me to hang my sign just above them and covering them. The man behind the counter intuitively appeared by my side and began adding masking tape. A piece to the left corner of my poster and then the right. “Thank you so much. This means a lot to my student writers.”
As I walked out of the store, I removed my mask and had a big smile of my face. I glanced up and saw another sign “Serving this neighborhood since the 1952” and I thought how this store started making keys and selling snow shovels in my school’s neighborhood as Dr. King started sharing his vision for equality across the United States. Now as customers shop during the the 2022 MLK holiday weekend, they will see my poster as soon as they enter the store.
I hope my students’ writing can inspire a customer or two to consider this questios: How can YOU get involved, take a stand, and support Dr. King’s mission and vision for equality? I hope they feel empowered to DO SOMETHING TODAY as it says in the lower right hand side of the poster. I walked to my car so glad I had the courage to ask and so grateful the store owner said yes!
Eight additional stores in my community agreed to hang the poster: Randolph Bakery, Old Dominion Pizza, Barston’s Toys, Lebanese Taverna Market, Mr. Moore’s Barbershop, Magnum Opus Hair Salon, The Pie Shop, and Arlington’s Central Public Library.
Sure, I was nervous to ask each store owner. But all said YES! In all, it cost me $5 to buy the poster board, two hours to xerox student writing, cut and tape it onto the nine boards and about 30-minutes to drive to the eight shops. And if one customer stops and reads our words and pauses to think about Dr. King, it is all worth it. I am glad I did something today to keep Dr. King’s spirit alive in my community. Happy Birthday, Dr. King!