The Power of Restoration
by Ryan Roff on Jun 01, 2020
The Power of Restoration
This morning, I biked through the streets of Grand Rapids like I’ve done hundreds of times before. The scene on this Monday morning was different. Boarded up windows and partially cleaned graffiti lined my commute as I heard the noise of glass being thrown into the dumpster and under my tires. It was heavy a reminder of the events that unfolded just two nights prior.
Five years ago, around this time, we decided to sign a lease in downtown Grand Rapids to open a retail store. It was one of the most exciting moves we’d made as a company. It allowed us to move out of our basements and into a space where we could bring on new employees, share our products with Grand Rapids and participate in the neighborhood in a new way. I spent months building up the store as the team moved over boxes upon boxes into our new warehouse and office space. The feeling was electric. We were building something new that the city could call its own: a sock store in the heart of downtown.
On Saturday, May 30, we were traveling up north, but received an invitation to participate in the silent March in downtown Grand Rapids to protest police brutality following the death of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer. The invitation was to pray with our feet. To walk with our brothers and sisters in Grand Rapids. To stand together in unity. To plead for God's justice, racial healing, reconciliation and unity. To be active participants in the restoration of our nation and city, and to pray that this protest, these voices, this march would be heard.
Later that evening, I received a handful of texts asking if our store had been vandalized. I had no idea what was going on. What started as a beautiful night both in Grand Rapids at the silent protest and for me in Northern Michigan quickly turned into a horrifying and anxious next few hours as I tried to gather facts and information about the riots and our store. I watched the news coverage as the Secretary of State had almost every window smashed in and as some of the same agitators walked towards South Division and our store. A man unfazed by the cameras twirled his bat around looking for the next window to shatter. My body began to shake both out of fear and the dropping temperatures as my campfire waned and my stress grew. The store across the street had already been looted and it appeared as though efforts were only escalating. Soon, tear gas was shot into the crowds causing them to disperse from the corner of Fulton and Division towards our building. Back and forth crowds went until police secured the intersection just hundreds of feet from our store.
At that point, all I could do was pray and hope.
About 5 minutes later, I got a message from a past employee that now lives in the apartments above our office saying that she was nearly trampled trying to get into the building, but that things were starting to settle down. While our corner was fairly secure, the riots were far from over. Vandals roamed the streets for hours more smashing in windows throughout downtown and looting other stores.
I went to bed with a heavy heart and a lot of unknowns. Agitators turned a beautiful demonstration into utter chaos, and I had no idea what I would wake up to on Sunday.
My business partner texted me early the next morning a few pictures of our building that had been tagged by graffiti. No broken windows or burned dumpsters, just a few spray paint marks. Other businesses throughout the city were not as fortunate. It looked like a tornado went through the area with glass, paint and burn marks scattered throughout the city.
I was hit with a wave of emotion and thoughts. I logistically thought about how I would clean up the graffiti. I thought about what other business owners would need to do to come back from this and the recent economic downturn. I thought about the pain of those that once again felt silenced by the evil in society. I thought about the trauma that led many to anger and the deep sadness of oppression that still exists today. I thought about my role in all of this and how we can be better.
Minutes later, I started receiving texts of people arriving downtown. I watched as people I didn’t know show up with brooms, brushes and buckets to clean up and restore the broken pieces of the previous night. Three volunteers who I likely will never meet scrubbed tirelessly to remove the graffiti on our building before I even had a chance to drive back to Grand Rapids. My eyes started to well up with tears as I watched compassion poured out throughout the city.
The power of restoration transformed the narrative.
I will continue to unpack the layers of complexity wrapped up in this cultural moment in the days that follow, but for a moment, for this moment, I am in awe of the beautiful, redemptive work happening in me and around me. Acts of love, sacrifice, grace and reconciliation are transforming communities. In the face of evil and injustice, people are standing up and putting the pieces back together. The road is long ahead of us, but I am thankful, even if it is just for a glimpse, to see the good in humanity on full display.