The public is rallying around the manager at a Michael's store in Chicago who was subjected to a half-hour Thanksgiving eve tirade by an irate customer - as depicted in a viral video that shows black employees at the store being berated.
A GoFundMe account for the manager, who stayed calm during the incident, raised $32,058 before it closed midnight Wednesday night Chicago time. In a now-viral video of the episode, the manager is heard trying to calm down a customer as she calls minority employees of the store "animals." The crowdfunding campaign was to remain open on the GoFundMe.com website until midnight Chicago time.
"She's just a very kind, charitable person who loves her job," Michael's customer Jessie Grady, 35, of Chicago, told USA TODAY about the woman who she described as in her 30s or 40s. "She is interested in getting a master's in psychology. She wants to help underprivileged youth, homeless youth. She does arts and crafts. She knits hats and gloves for homeless youth every Christmas."
Grady shot the video that as of Wednesday night had generated 3.67 million views on YouTube, and she set up the GoFundMe campaign. Please note that the video does include expletives. Grady initially intended to raise $400 so that the manager, who Grady believes is a mother of three, can have a nice holiday with her family.
But the donations began to pour in after Grady, a writer and activist, set up the account. Contributions are coming in every few minutes and people are leaving supportive messages for the store manager, whose name is being withheld by Grady.
A Michael's employee who answered the telephone at the store said she was not allowed to answer questions about the incident or manager. The store's national press relations team could not be reached late Wednesday.
On the GoFundMe page, donor Debra Rosenthal wrote, "Bravo to everyone who responded to this bullying with grace and generosity."
Wrote donor Rene Zermeno, "God bless you for not simply documenting this racist outburst. By transforming it into an opportunity for people to take a stand and demonstrate our generosity and concern as fellow Americans, you've renewed our sense of hope and given us a voice."
Grady was at the store with her 2-year-old daughter on Nov. 23 to buy a Santa hat for the little girl, she said. She was exiting but her daughter was enthralled with a Christmas ornament she'd seen near the entrance. That's when Grady heard a raised voice and saw that a woman customer was trying to purchase a long cylinder of Christmas ornaments that would not fit into a regular shopping bag. A cashier suggested the customer purchase a larger reusable bag for $1 to hold the cylinder of ornaments and that's when the woman became enraged at the cashier's suggestion, Grady recounted.
The irate customer referred to that employee and another minority employee as "animals" and accused them of discriminating against her. She also boasted that she'd voted for President-elect Donald Trump. “And I voted for Trump, so there. You want to kick me out because of that? And look who won," the woman is heard saying in the video.
The woman also turns to Grady at one point, accusing Grady’s toddler of shoplifting the Christmas ornament she was admiring. The woman shouts to Grady, “I was just discriminated against by two black women and you being a white woman and you literally thinking that’s OK.”
The person believed to be the woman in the video could not be reached.
Grady wrote on the crowdfunding page, “I am starting this GoFundMe because I’d like to do something to try to make it up to the employee who was the main target of this racist attack. I’d like to show her that many people are horrified by how this woman treated her, and that we stand with her and appreciate her hard work. She inspired me because despite the hateful words that were being hurled in her direction, she stood in that entranceway calm and unmoving to protect her staff and customers. Her calmness calmed me and I saw a true leader, which in today’s world, is something to be rewarded.”
Michael’s issued a statement to HuffPost, saying it does not tolerate discrimination in its stores.
“We regret that our customers and team members were affected by this unfortunate incident and are grateful for the leadership of our store team in working to resolve it without further escalation,” the statement read.
Grady noted that at the end of the episode, people were hugging each other. She said the manager told her that incidents like this one happen all the time but this was the first time the public responded in such a way. Grady said she hopes that the entire incident and its aftermath has a positive, lasting effect.
"I just hope people will be kinder to each other," Grady said. "I've gotten hundreds of messages from people saying they're going to say something (when incidents like this happen) from now on."