When I wrote my open letter Arena’s LLC on Saturday December 29, 2018 I never expected the level of commentary, likes, love, and shares that the post would elicit. Overwhelmingly positive and supportive, your feedback bolstered my courage and 2019 goal to speak out every single time in ways that I can never put into words. The fear and trepidation that I had before pressing submit was washed away after your messages of support and gratitude. Fortunately for this situation; my own internal fear was the most challenging part of the entire ordeal.
Arena’s owner Charles Arena reached out to me via phone two days after the open letter was published and scheduled an in person conversation to discuss my experience. We had our conversation a few days later on Thursday January 3rd at Javas on Gibbs and I am pleased to share a positive summation of our conversation and action that came from it.
A Positive Conversation
From the beginning what struck me the most from my interaction with Charles is that he immediately apologized and owned his way of being in my feelings and experience. Instead of pandering or making excuses he sincerely apologized for making me feel “unwelcome” and unfairly treated. This sincerity set the tone for the rest of our conversation and immediately put me at ease for the rest of our time together. We discussed a lot about the concepts of intent versus impact which are concepts that I am working on unpacking personally in all my relationships thanks to recent work with Kit Miller of the Ghandi Institute (hey Kit) and he assured me that his aim and intent was to create a safe environment for every single person that enters into the boutique.
Charles admitted that the layout and decoration of the store leaves little room from large bags and briefcases and shared that as owner he has wrestled with how to create an atmosphere that best articulates the need for bags and large equipment to not be carried throughout the boutique while not bombarding the customer which nuisance signage. We both agreed that this balance is most certainly a challenge. He shared that he simply wanted to let me know of this policy and inadvertently had missed the other woman. I shared that in daily life and with the level of microagressions that I receive daily as well as the general hateful rhetoric that I am bombarded with; I didn’t feel that my feelings came directly from him per se but from my perception of the entire scenario at large. It is so hard to know every single time if a situation is in fact racist or anti-black but instead of “letting it go” and then allowing a perceived injustice to fester in my spirit; I am not forcing myself to #speakout every single time even if I am wrong or miss the mark. Charles said he was unsurprisingly mortified but thankful that I did reach out.
As the conversation continued Charles was very open with sharing his own personal story of triumph, feelings of learning differently and ultimately how he came to build Arena’s. He purposely chose to house his business in the City and eventually to East Ave in downtown Rochester despite challenges around construction and much more over the years. He shared his love for downtown’s diversity and seeing the ebb and flow of our city over many decades. He also shared his experience as a member of the LBGTQ community, the intersection of owning a business and feelings of being marginalized and profiled in his life. He would never intentionally want to make someone else feel inferior or lesser than.
Additionally I shared my thoughts on embracing diversity and also being aware as a fellow business owner that intent, impact, and reality don’t always perfectly align and that as diversity in the neighborhood changes the landscape and scope, it is important as a retail owner to analyze and assess that our normal ways of being are not unintentionally ostracizing others. Charles agreed that this balance is very challenging and sometimes he does not always get it right.
In the end we both agreed that this conversation was so vital and even if the path to us having a meeting of the minds wasn’t the most ideal, the fact that we could come together was the most beautiful part of the entire ordeal. I ended feeling honored, respected, and that my voice was heard. This is all anyone can ask for in a situation like this.
Take-Aways and Action
Charles was honest and open in admitting that he is open for community suggestions and feedback on how to best post the policy about keeping large bags or briefcases in a spot behind the counter in the store when shopping or browsing.
- Should he post signage on the door?
- Should multiple signs be spaced out throughout the first floor?
- Would this create a welcoming environment?
We also discussed the Arenas brand/image in the greater community.
- Would you like to see more publicity from Arena’s in general?
- Have you ever visited the store? Why or why not?
Charles has been a champion for the Out Alliance and the Center for Youth but some feel that because it hasn’t been publicized; no one can know this. What are your thoughts?
- How can Arena’s make better use of social media without com-modifying it?
The idea is for you to share your thoughts. Stop in. Write a letter. Send a message on Facebook. Give your feedback. Charlie has been a community member and City business owner for 35 years and wants your feedback and suggestions.
Take the Pledge
So in 2019 take the pledge with me. No matter who you are or where you are when you see injustice or experience it; call it out. If the situation doesn’t lend itself to a in person confrontation then write a letter. Call the owner or call corporate. Take to social media. Start a change.or petition. Whatever method you choose make sure you hold perpetrators of injustice intentional or not accountable. This is the only way we can begin to change the culture of white supremacy. Everyone, everywhere has to speak out every single time.
When you speak out in 2019 share on social media and use hashtag #speakoutnow
Are you questioning your ability to call out and speak out about injustice? Get in touch! Submit your question below and I will personally help you figure out the best way to speak out! We are in this together.