The Michaels employee who became the target of a customer's now-viral tirade at a Chicago store said she is in "utter shock" at the donations strangers from across the country have made in an effort to show their support this holiday season.
In a letter to those that raised more than $32,000 for her, the store manager identified only as Holli wrote "you have all single handedly changed my life."
"You will be blessed for this act of unconditional kindness," she wrote. "I never thought my ginormous dreams would become a reality so soon and at the hand of others, but with your support I can now take the steps needed to build a better future. Because of you this dark world has a lot more light in it."
Supporters rallied around the Michaels employee after video of an incident at a location in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood the day before Thanksgiving went viral.
The footage, which had been viewed more than 590,000 times as of Monday afternoon, showed an angry customer yelling at an employee claiming she was discriminated against while checking out last week. By Tuesday morning, more than 2 million people watched the footage. In the video, the white customer is seen calling a black employee at the Lakeview store “an animal” and telling one employee to “shut your face.”
She claims an employee discriminated against her and mumbled that she must have voted for Donald Trump, but the employee is heard in the video denying that claim.
“And I voted for Trump, so there,” she said. “What? You want to kick me out because of that? And look who won. Look who won.”
The woman vows to report the employees to their corporate headquarters and yells at bystanders filming the incident before calling the police. An employee can be heard in the background telling the woman she was not discriminated against, but that the employee asked if she would like to buy a reusable bag.
"When I asked for my things to be bagged, and I don't care about the size of the bag, this other woman makes a big deal about it, coming around," she says in the video. "She's screaming at me from across the store, screaming at me."
Jessie Grady, who witnessed and filmed part of the 30-minute ordeal, posted the footage to social media and started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the employee targeted in the so-called rant.
Grady said the employees “did nothing to provoke this verbal attack and in fact treated all customers with professionalism and courtesy.”
“I was so shocked by this unprovoked attack that I captured 17 minutes of it on video on my phone,” Grady wrote on the GoFundMe page. “I am starting this gofundme [sic] 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.”
Both the woman in the video and bystanders called police to report the incident. Police confirmed officers were called to the store Wednesday, but when they arrived, the woman was gone and no police report could be filed.
Michaels said in a statement it does not “tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind against our team members or customers.”
“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.
The company also tweeted Monday, “We appreciate the outpouring of support for our Chicago-based team member.”
Grady said that she was "astounded" by how big her GoFundMe campaign grew.
"What started as a small gesture to let one person know that she is valued and important to her community turned into something I never imagined," she wrote on Facebook. "I never expected this to get past the neighborhood. Our country has been completely divided in the past couple years, but somehow this one story resonated with and united millions of people."
She noted that there were "hundreds of Trump supporters who donated and sent kind messages denouncing this behavior."
"Millions of you saw that this was about more than one incident," she wrote. "This was about treating workers with dignity and respect. This was about community and kindness and standing up against hatred. These are values Americans once believed in and other countries admired us for. Shine a mirror on it. This won’t solve all of our problems, but it’s one small step."
Read the manager's full letter below:
A letter from Holli:
I'll start with this. I am in utter shock. You have all single handedly changed my life. Each of you have shown me that this world is worth living in. I have felt so misguided in a sense of why can't I get passed where I am. I've tried to be kind, I've tried to be fair, I've tried to share regardless if I was able to. I want others to smile when I smile back at them. Knowing deeply we all have a higher purpose. How can I help!!
For some time now, I've felt this overwhelming sense of failure. I want to make a positive change in this world. I know what I'm here for and that's to help others reach their higher potential. With your support I have been blessed with the opportunity to live and not just survive daily. I can properly provide for my family and meet all our children's needs. I will now have the ability to get my business up and running in order to provide a better future for us. And I can still give back to my community even more now.
You have personally contributed to SO much more than you could possible know.
I ask that you please forgive me as I'm a little afraid to make a public video. Just know that from my soul to yours. You will be blessed for this act of unconditional kindness. I never thought my ginormous dreams would become a reality so soon and at the hand of others, but with your support I can now take the steps needed to build a better future. Because of you this dark world has a lot more light in it.
Not to preach at you or push spirituality at you. That being said I pray that you gain real fulfillment in your life. I don't know you but I love you. It's weird to some people but whatever, I believe we are one people so if I love myself therefore I love you. We've been taught that what we do unto others, we receive in return.
A great teacher of mine has said "All forms of pain, suffering, illness or financial chaos are there to promote spiritual growth and character change." We are the change. You are this change. We stand together side by side in truth and know love trumps hate. Blessings to you may your light continue to break through the darkness.
-Yours sincerely Jony AKA Holli