It may say “Love” behind Blair Campbell, owner of the Pretty Penny Cafe in Hillsboro, but the word was spray painted on the building as an act of hate.
Last Wednesday morning, as Campbell was driving through town to pick up employee Frank Walker, she saw the green words sprayed on the side of her restaurant. The “N” word was accompanied by the word Lover in crude letters.
Campbell reported the incident to the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department and called her friends for help with covering or removing the racial slur.
Thoroughly shaken and distraught, Campbell tried to process the incident as she was comforted by friends.
“Last night somebody thought it would be a good idea to write the most obscene words that they could think of in my book on my cafe,” Campbell said. “I’m married to a Jamaican man – a black man. I have two brown children and for somebody to use the ‘N’ word in such a derogatory way – to insinuate that there is something wrong with me because I love the person that I love… I feel like my entire family has been threatened. My heart is broken.”
Campbell has given a lot to the community since she returned home and opened her restaurant in 2009.
In 2012, when the county was hit by a derecho and residents were left without power for weeks, The Pretty Penny served food to the community and assisted those in need.
“I’ve done a lot for this community,” she said. “I have worked really hard to make a really good life for my family here and to have somebody question my livelihood, my business, but also more importantly, the people who work here and my family, I’m devastated, and I take this very seriously.”
Campbell, a mother of two small children, is fearful the incident is a precursor to something more. Although she hopes it is an isolated incident, she is still afraid for the safety of her family.
“I hope that this was an isolated incident, but I’m scared of what might happen in the coming weeks,” she said. “We live in a small town, a small community and even if somebody doesn’t feel that they are a racist person, the ‘N’ word is a very racist word. It’s not a nice word and for somebody to vandalize my business – it’s heartbreaking.”
The incident is being investigated by Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department Captain Troy McCoy.
‘It’s such a shocker’
Sadly, racial slurs are not new to 25-year-old Pretty Penny cook and black man Frank Walker. Born and raised in Greenbrier County, Walker moved to Hillsboro three years ago with his wife, who works at High Rocks for Girls.
“As far as vandalism, no, but as far as racial slander and slurs, I definitely dealt with that and grew up with it,” Walker said. “It’s just a part of life, but as I grew, it went away. Maturity levels kick in and some people still carry that, but there’s more to life than that [racism]. A lot of people know that up here. The only way to succeed is to put that aside and push forward.”
While it is such a derogatory and hurtful thing to spray on someone’s building, Walker said he thinks the incident was the result of boredom and poor judgment.
“Nobody’s ever left out of here with that much hate,” he said of the Café. “Whoever did it, they were bored. I’m thinking it was a kid that was bored, thinking it was funny. I hope it was just a kid trying to have fun and not somebody who’s an adult and has rational thinking because there’s nothing rational about that at all. It’s not cool.”
Walker was with Campbell when she drove by the Café and saw the slur. As both tried to process what had happened, Walker found it hard to wrap his head around the act.
“I don’t care what Blair did to anybody or what the Café did to anybody – there’s nothing… it doesn’t matter. Even if she was a bad person, that does not justify it. You don’t do that,” he said. “We all bleed the same color. We all breath the same air. We all require the same things. None of us are animals.
“Hopefully this will open up some eyes around here,” he continued. “It’s just not cool. Even if Blair was a bad person, it doesn’t justify that because she has family and kids. I know it’s not a physical threat but to go home at night and thinking, ‘wow, somebody did that to my place of business, what’s next?’ Blair doesn’t deserve that.”
Walker hopes the community, county, state and maybe even the country will learn something from this act.
“I just really hope and pray that something comes from this,” he said. “I don’t really want to see anybody get into huge trouble, but they need to get into trouble and possibly learn something. It starts with spray painting and then it escalates. This place is a great place to be. You won’t find anything like it in the world, I honestly believe that. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned from this.”
A community united
Just hours after Campbell contacted friends to tell them what happened, several of them converged on The Pretty Penny with washrags and cleaner in their hands and love in their hearts.
Native Pocahontas countian Joanna Burt-Kinderman and Pittsburgh transplant Amy Cimarolli flanked Campbell as they scrubbed away at the green letters in the freezing cold.
As they scrubbed, the pair shared their surprise that this gathering had to take place at all.
“I first and foremost am sickened,” Burt-Kinderman said. “I have a first grader who just learned to read, and I don’t want her to exist in any world where those are words that she reads. Were she here today, she would be horrified that there are grownups who use their ability to write and read to do things to hurt one another.”
When Cimarolli overheard Burt-Kinderman on the phone with Campbell, she assumed the incident took place somewhere far away from her own backyard.
“When I heard the phone call this morning, I thought Joanna was talking to someone who didn’t live here – that it was out of state or at least out of the county and when she said it was in Hillsboro, it blew my mind,” Cimarolli said. “I’ve learned a lot today.”
Both agree that this incident brings the subject of racism to the surface and the community needs to take the lead to educate one another and understand the effect racism has.
“To everybody that thinks there should not be racism, now’s the time to stand next to The Pretty Penny and stand up for all of our children for how they should be raised,” Burt-Kinderman said. “This is an invitation to our larger community to teach the one misguided soul who thought that was a good idea what we all really do stand for and what this community is really about.”
The tight-knit community is one of the aspects of Hillsboro that attracted Cimarolli to make it her home.
“I chose to move to this community because of the friendliness, kindness and openness I felt from those who have lived here for years and years, if not their entire lives,” she said. “It is shameful that someone here chose to vandalize and attack a family that is one of the most welcoming and that contributes so much to the Hillsboro community. Really, regardless of how any family contributes to a community, their race is no basis for making threats.”
We Are One
As news of the vandalism reached social media, droves of friends, family and even strangers came together to show support for Campbell and her family. The outpouring of love led to the movement, “We Are One,” an online community for sharing love and fighting against racism and hate.
After the words were gone from the side of her business, Blair took to Facebook and shared her feelings with those who support her.
“Call me naive, but I would have hoped this would never happen,” she wrote. “Not the fact that someone said something I didn’t like, or used the disgusting N word in front of me… It’s the fact that someone took such a public stand about people I love.”
Blair writes that she is taking a stand to show everyone that Pocahontas County is a place where diversity is celebrated, not hated.
“We need people to know this is a place that treasures diversity,” she wrote. “That the blacks and the whites, the bear hunters and animal lovers, the tree huggers and timber loggers can all live in peace. That we can all show each other more respect. Maybe we could have more compassion. We can come together to lift people up. Give people encouragement, understanding, joy, love and peace. I don’t think it’s too much to hope for.”
For more information, visit the We Are One Facebook page.