You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

Published 12:17 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

As a book-seller, it’s probably a mortal sin to admit it, but, alas, I have not yet read “The Help.” I have, however, seen the movie, which I know in the literary world does not count, and I’ve probably earned 40 lashes for admitting this in a public setting.

There is a theme present in “The Help” that has inspired this week’s column, and that is the resilience of the human spirit and the ability to overcome adversity. Needless to say, this is not the 1950s and 1960s and this is not Jackson, Miss., and I am not up for an Academy Award-winning performance.

But this is the Original Washington in the midst of the Great Recession, recovery from Hurricane Irene and unpleasantly high levels of personal and collective suffering, and I do have a column to write.

This obviously is not my typical column.

Washington is a town that has a history of resillent people and overcoming immense odds to survive. Nearly all of downtown Washington was destroyed in 1863 when Union troops burned much of the city during the Civil War. Yet, Washington bounced back.

The city again burned in 1900, and, once again, the residents of Washington pulled themselves together to re-establish a vibrant and bustling business district.

And now Washington faces the dual problems of an economic collapse and damage from Hurricane Irene.

I’ve been in Washington for almost two years. If some of the folks I’ve met in my short time here in Washington are any indication, we will live up to our reputation of coming back from the proverbial ashes.

Many downtown business owners have faced tremendous adversity, not just in establishing their businesses, but in their personal lives as well, and, yet, they continue to show up day after day and try to make something of their business and downtown.

There are customers who have lost loved ones and manage to put a smile on my face when they talk to us in our store because of a deeper insight they have succeeded in gaining from their struggles.

There are specific examples, such as Garleen Woolard, Rebecca Clark and Jayne Meisell, who lost employment and a second income when The Little Shoppes of Washington was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. These women did not sit around and sulk, but instead formed a plan within a week to help not just themselves but the other vendors at The Little Shoppes by opening Washington Emporium.

There are Jenny and Louis Jones, who lost Charisma Boutique and were rebuilding by the following week.

There are, of course, Carolyn and Randy Walker, who lost everything when the roof peeled off their building. When I asked Randy how he was holding up, he responded that he would use this catastrophe as an opportunity to build a better business.

There are scores of other people I can mention, save the constraint of words.

The point is that we have within ourselves the ability to overcome, improve and make our city a better place. We do not need to sit around and wait for the long arm of federal assistance or the bureaucrats from Raleigh to tell us we can do it.
Each of us in Washington has the ability to make it a better place. We are a resilient lot.

As Aibileen says to Baby Girl in “The Help,” “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Gary Ceres is co-owner of I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store in downtown Washington.