Celton Hayden Jr., president and CEO of Baton Rouge, La.-based CC’s Coffee House LLC, has been in a unique position to observe and contemplate on this summer’s wave of shooting tragedies.
As an African-American foodservice company CEO, Hayden recently observed in a poignant string of Facebook posts and pictures that “we will only extinguish the flames of hatred and division by removing the oxygen of ignorance and fear.”
Hayden wrote another message July 8, the week before a gunman on Sunday killed three police officers in Baton Rouge and injured three others before dying in a shootout with authorities and in the wake of violent tragedies in Dallas and Orlando, Fla.
On Monday, Hayden explained in an email his motivation for posting his insights: “I know we as leaders can contribute to the positive discourse in our nation. I have one gift beyond the gift of life and that is the gift to inspire people to act. I can't take that gift with me when I leave this world. I have to use it now and pass it on. I wrote the post because I had to.”
Hayden, who has been with the 35-unit CC’s for 15 years and was named president and CEO in 2013, said he had dined and shared time with a number of Baton Rouge police officers.
“Our peace officers need your prayers,” Hayden said. “In the coming days, we will need your actions. Any help is appreciated.”
Individual CC's units delivered food on Sunday to the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters.
Nation’s Restaurant News asked Hayden to share his original Facebook message here:
For those who need to know, I am a black man. I am a Christian. I am a father. I am grandfather. I am an American.
If those labels give you the comfort, you may need to add context to my comments; or if those labels allow you the clarity by which to govern your reactions to my words, so be it.
Beyond them, I am hopeful that you can understand that being a human being and citizen of this world far exceed the adjectives that we so desperately seek to categorize one another and to categorize ourselves.
Our nation has been rocked with the events that have unfolded over the last several days. From officer involved shootings of young black men to the murder of Dallas police and Dallas transit officers. Wherever you stand on any issues that caused or contributed to the divides or dialogues amongst us as citizens, you undoubtedly are aware of the fragility and sanctity of life. The single life that each of us is endowed: You cherish it. You nurture it. You protect it. We also seek to do the same for our families and our friends.
Every day, as citizens of this nation and our communities we step out from our homes, workplaces and houses of worship with the intent of one final goal that day: come back safely.
The drive to end our days and begin another without harm to ourselves is strong. The drive to see that same thing for all of those around us, however, is not. Not as strong as it should be. Not as it should be as a reflection of our appreciation and awareness of the fleeting nature of our existence on this earth. If the drive for personal safety and satisfaction could be extended to those we know the least about or those we fear, how powerful would that be?
Why is this an important question? I believe that far too many of us live our lives only to the extent at which we can preserve ourselves. We limit of our ability to extend protections to only those that look like ourselves. Only to those that sound like ourselves. Only to those that think like ourselves. Only to those who live and love like ourselves. This self-imposed limitation on the capacity to love is sad. It is an underutilization of the limitless potential that exists in each of us and all of us.
Compassion, empathy and love do not happen in a vacuum, but instead they must be given the opportunity to flourish. They must be given away freely to all those around you. For if you don’t, that bright flame of self-love, self-worth will die along with you. How many others that aren't your kin, that aren't your race, that aren't your orientation, have you shown kindness to today? Have you genuinely sacrificed of your precious time to close a gap that exists between you and another? Have you thanked the person you didn't know before for being in your life now?
Those black men and women, who have lost their lives were in my life. So were the officers who took them. The protesters who walk the streets of our nation are in my life. So are the individuals who seek to warp their desire for systemic social change. The dedicated men and women of law enforcement who have lost their lives so needlessly in Dallas are in my life. So is the killer who took them.
Now, I am no more directly responsible for the actions of any those that I have just mentioned than you are. That is not my intent. I do intend to bring you to an understanding of the impact that each of us has on where we go from here. The things we have done and how we have done them to get to this point as a society as human family cannot and will not be the things to move us forward to an position we can responsibly deem as better.
Understanding the interconnectedness of each of us in this world is essential. You don't need a bullhorn or television appearance to bring about change. You need your voice and your heart. If you want to apply your hands, feel free. But put them together in unison with every man and woman and child around you, especially someone different than you.
I challenge each of us to take up the causes of love, peace and compassion. Take up the causes of awareness and empathy. Take up the causes of justice and humanity. For the presence of any one thing does not mean the absence of the other.
My friends, every beach is made up of billions of grains of sand. You may ask, what power exists in just one? Imagine if each grain of sand could think for itself and then choose to separate from the others? Having a regard only for itself and those closest to it? What then keeps the rising tide from enveloping us all? Coming together is not easy. The work will consume us. The results will build our future — together.
Follow Celton Hayden on Twitter: @HotCoffee4All