Ever since Amy Cooper, the Central Park dog walker who infamously called 911 on a Black birdwatcher in May, we’ve heard a lot about Karens.
But for every Karen out there, there is a Ken.
Ken, too, has an overblown sense of self-importance. Ken will weaponize his privilege to protect his comfort. Ken wants to talk to the manager. And the manager’s manager. And even the manager after that.
On Thursday, Aug. 13, Real Change’s 2020 Vendor of the Year was having a pretty good day, at least until Ken came along.
Darrell Wrenn, vendor No. 13604, is tall, unfailingly polite and has the sort of smile that begins with the eyes and radiates like the sun. Darrell loves people, and people love him back.
While COVID-19 has made street sales challenging for all of our vendors, Darrell works hard to succeed. He puts in the hours, day after day and in all kinds of weather, and has found supportive, caring community at Issaquah PCC.
Darrell stands near the door, but takes care not to be in the way. He wears the required face mask and he also wears gloves, even on hot days. Darrell sells Real Change hand sanitizer along with his papers.
Darrell wants everyone, including himself, to be safe.
That afternoon, Darrell was being filmed for the Vendor of the Year video that will be shown during our Imagine Change virtual event this year.
There was an air of celebration. There’s something about having a camera aimed at you that generates sales. His customers were smiling, curious and invested in his success.
But not Ken. Ken said Darrell was too close to the door. Ken said Darrell shouldn’t be at the store.
Darrell, being Darrell, politely held his ground. Ken went to Anne, the store manager, who told him that there was no problem. Darrell had the store’s support.
As customers continued to buy Darrell’s paper, something in Ken apparently broke.
He went over Anne’s head to Jon, the store director, now tossing an “assault” complaint into the mix. But nobody was buying.
“Everyone knows me there,” said Darrell later. “Even the police know me. And they know I always conduct myself in a positive, professional manner.”
Frustrated thus far, Ken took his manufactured outrage to PCC corporate. There, he reached Morgan, a former Issaquah branch manager who also knew Darrell. Morgan was skeptical to say the least.
But an assault complaint is an assault complaint and must be taken seriously. The store checked the video.
Video, unlike Ken, doesn’t lie. Ken never came within 6 feet of Darrell. Ken was clearly making shit up. The store managers apologized to Darrell.
“Don’t let this guy win,” they told him. “Keep coming back. We love you.”
When Darrell emailed Real Change about the incident, he said he wasn’t too bothered. He took Friday off, but was back the next day, spending four hours at his post, masked and gloved in the 90-degree heat.
“I am a Black Man,” he wrote, “Selling the Real Change Newspaper and Making a Difference in Life.” This, I think, is what bothered Ken so much. If this was just about fear of COVID, he would not have lied.
Darrell chalks the incident up to “the times we are living in.”
A time when even the success of a Black Real Change vendor in a white-dominated space such as Issaquah is viewed by some as an intolerable, existential threat.
A time when the rabid defense of privilege and prejudice is normalized every day by the president of the United States.
A time when lies seek to displace reality, and truth becomes a matter of belief.
But in the end, if we allow this story to stand as a small instance of hope and resistance, Love Wins.
Hate is small and pathetic and betrays a weakness of the soul. Love is expansive and capable of healing the wounds of the world. Even this world.
Just ask Darrell. You can find him at Issaquah PCC.
He’s not going anywhere.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read more of the Aug. 19-25, 2020 issue.