"Whom you serve, determines the nature of that service." - Tom Bradford
"We gon' work you like a slave today!", this was what one of the Assistant Manager's of a branch of The Home Depot ('The Home Depot' is one of the biggest international retail stores for home improvement based in the U.S) barked at me during brunch time, on the 17th of July, 2012. It was my last but one day working there. Prior to that day, I had been serving as a sales associate for the Plumbing Department for the past 13-and-a-half months. And that was exactly what I was doing - helping customers with their plumbing needs - until Marcus, the Assistant Store Manager, called me to come and offload a palette full of air-conditioners onto the display area of the sales floor. I explained to Marcus that I needed help in order to juggle that cumbersome task with my primary duty of assisting customers in my department. To this, Marcus agreed to help me. He helped move one air-conditioner and then watched me suffer to move two others by myself. Upon inquiring why he had stopped helping me, Marcus snapped at me and commanded me to continue doing 'my job'. To this, I stopped and told that this wasn't a job for one person. And that, as a matter of fact, I was only working on that day because Gene, the main Store Manager, had requested me to fill in for another associate who was supposed to have been working that morning shift. I concluded by also telling Marcus that I was tired, since I had been working by myself all morning in my department, without any breaks! Marcus declared, "I don't care!". And then the famous title of this story was born out of the mouth of the big, pot-bellied man called Marcus: "We gon' work you like a slave today!". Needless to say, I was flabbergasted! Not just because this was coming from an African-American man - a descendant of a slave - but also because he saying this to an African immigrant, me, without any reservations whatsoever. I quickly overcame the shock that had just hit me viva voce, and started my long walk past Marcus, towards the break room. Marcus followed me all the way to the entrance of the break room, bellowing my name repeatedly, as he varied the wordings of his order for me to get back to work. Little did Marcus know that he was playing with fire.
15 minutes, was the allotted break time at my workplace. And so for the next 15 minutes (after taking a seat in the break room), I did everything but rest my mind. As I sat in complete silence, calming myself down, composing my thoughts and premeditating on my imminent actions, I reminded myself that after tomorrow, this would all be over. Almost a fortnight earlier, precisely the 4th of July, 2012, I decided to quit my job as a sales associate in The Home Depot. On that fateful day, I woke up with a great uneasiness in my soul. I figured, "This is going to be one of those long days." I studied a few scriptures in the Bible that discussed the concept of freedom and then boom! As I opened my email inbox, voila! There, written in bold script, was the 3-worded title of an email that would change my day - my life - forever: DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE! I had completely forgotten that, that day, July 4th 2012, commemorated the 236th year in which the United States of America declared itself independent from Great Britain. Was I actually about to resign from my job because of the title of a piece of junk (e)mail? Yes, I was! I had been pondering over leaving my job for many months because of two main reasons:
1. I had founded and started working on my own filmmaking and photography studio.
2. I hated the irresponsible attitude of the leadership team, and the laissez-faire work culture of the staff at the Home Depot branch, where I was working.
So on the 4th of July, I put in my two weeks' resignation notice and prepared to leave the source of my livelihood for good; without any assurance of success in my newly-found venture - filmmaking and photography. I declared myself independent from economic slavery in pursuit of an oasis that was hidden in a vast desert of uncertainty. Gene, the store manager, tried his possible best to persuade me to stay; stating that I was 'a very valuable asset to the store'. To this I replied, "If I am so valuable, why have I been scheduled for only 1 and 2 working days for the past two weeks, this week and the week to come?". Right there and then, Gene changed my schedule, giving me 40 hours a week for the next 2 weeks, in hope that I'd change my mind. I accepted the hours, because I had never received an 80-hour, biweekly paycheck in all my 13-and-a-half months at The Home Depot! However,I refused to rescind my decision to quit. Gene smiled at me and said, "Don't worry! When you come back, I'll take care of you, alright?". I smiled back at him and responded, "I'm not coming back!". Gene turned his smile into a small giggle and said, "Oh, you will! Trust me: you will!". We both laughed out loud for our own reasons.
My 15 minutes were up! Slowly, I walked out of the break room onto the sales floor again. Walking past Marcus towards my department, I overhead him asking me, "You back? You gon' do some work, now?". I completely ignored him and attended to the seemingly neglected customers, bereft of assistance, in the aisles. Marcus kept calling at me to no avail. And then finally, he walked up behind me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and attempted to turn me towards him. I quickly slapped his hand off from my shoulder and ordered him never to touch me again! Yelling as loud as I could, I told all the customers in the aisle of what Marcus had said to me earlier on. Marcus tried to shut me up by threatening to fire me, or write me up, or both, I'm not sure. I couldn't hear him properly over my loud voice. The more he tried to keep me quiet, the more I yelled. The customers in the aisles all turned their attention towards Marcus and I, as we exchanged words; mine, being the more audible of course. I saw many of the customers and the other workers who had gathered around shaking their heads in disgust at Marcus, and in empathy of my cause, as I repeated these words, " 'You gon' work me like a slave?'! How dare you say that to me?! Who the bloody heck do you think you are?!"! Marcus, sensing that he (the manager on duty for the morning shift) was actively involved in a scene that could cost him his job or his Home Depot career, tried to calm me down. He suggested that we 'talk about this in the break room'. I completely ignored him again and started putting back some returned merchandise that were in a cart, onto the shelves. Marcus grabbed the cart from my hand and told me to 'go to the back'. To which I responded very loudly, "You go to the back!". Marcus became fearful again, and quickly dashed down the aisle, taking the cart mindlessly with him as he tried to escape my vents and the stares of the crowd. I never saw him again throughout the day. The next day, my last day, I worked in complete peace by myself, again, even though Marcus was the manager on duty for the day. As I said my final goodbyes to my fellow workers who were around, I walked past Marcus and looked sternly at his face. He looked on straight ahead of him, pretending as though he had just lost his sense of peripheral vision. I laughed and shook my head, as I took off my Home Depot apron for the last time. In that moment, I realized that I had forsaken the source and certainty of food, shelter, water and the basic amenities of life by quitting my job; in order to embrace the harsh reality and possibility of failure, starvation, homelessness, poverty and lack, for the sake of a dream! Yet, I knew that for the first time in my short life, I was truly free; and that this freedom couldn't have come any other way.
This story conveys three truths:
1. Whom you serve, determines the nature of your service.
2. Even though a piece of paper may declare you to be independent, it is the source and strength of your economy that will prove whether you're really independent or not.
3. As long as you take the easy road of comfort and safety, you will never be fruitful, nor truly free.