Sarena Griffin was enjoying breakfast with two friends at a local restaurant, and they were discussing the issue of racism.
Specifically, their conversation on Sept. 7 was about whether someone with seemingly engrained racist beliefs could ever really change.
When their meal at Bacon and Jam restaurant in Mt. Greenwood ended, they were brought to tears by the kindness of another diner who wanted to show them that they are not alone in the ongoing effort to overcome racism.
Griffin, who is black, and her friends were overwhelmed when their server said an elderly white man had paid their tab and left them a note of remarkable kindness:
“I retired from [the Chicago Police Department] after 33 years,” he wrote. “For 33 years, I was prepared to give my life to protect yours. I always knew your lives mattered! Peace.”
That sweet gesture stirred emotions for Griffin and her friends.
“That moment, to feel seen, was just tremendous,” Griffin said. “He gave me a renewed sense of hope that I was feeling wasn’t there.”
One of Griffin’s friends, Erin Walker, is a white woman from Evergreen Park, and she is married to a black man. The other friend, Ogemdi Adeboje, is a black woman from Nigeria. Also at breakfast were some of the women’s children.
Griffin, of Chatham, shared the uplifting note on 19th Ward News, a local Facebook group with 10,700 members that is known for its heart-felt discussions about race.
The post earned over 1,000 “likes” by press time, and it also resulted in dozens of positive comments.
Griffin posted the note on social media, she said, because she wanted help in discovering the man’s identity. The two may have made eye contact, she said, but she doesn’t think he heard them talking about race.
Perhaps his note was just a beautiful coincidence, but Griffin said it’s a step in the right direction in showing respect to people of color.
“That’s all that we want,” Griffin said, “to be acknowledged and that our law officers and our police officers, who are working tirelessly to protect all of us, see us.”
Griffin teaches at The Nautilus School, 1917 W. 93rd St., where young students learn independently. Her family lives out of state, she said, and they have expressed concerns to her about the social climate in Chicago.
The positive news generated by the note is something everyone loved—if not needed—to hear.
“Whoever this person was, whoever this man is, I hope he understands the gravity of this small act,” Griffin said. “It was a $60 bill. … He just took that extra step.”
She said the children at breakfast wondered why the women were crying. Upon leaving the restaurant, they hugged and shared in the moment.
Even the server had to wipe away some tears, Griffin said, after being reminded that “there is beauty in the world.”
Griffin wants to share a cup of coffee with the man, she said, and hear his life stories while she shares hers. She also wants to ask what she can do to help address racism in a productive way.
At Bacon and Jam, 3335 W. 111th St., owner Sam Maglaris said he doesn’t know who the man is, and he isn’t sure if the man had been to the restaurant before.
However, Maglaris was happy to see another instance of customers paying it forward.
“We see it happen all the time, especially for police officers … getting their check taken care of,” he said. “So, to have it the other way around was really great.”
Griffin said Adeboje, a teacher at Sutherland Elementary School, framed the note as a reminder of how little words on a small piece of paper made such a big impact.
“It truly was a beautiful act of kindness,” Griffin said, “and him just showing his beautiful humanity and seeing us.”