One January weekend in 2017, Rosalynd Harris was working her shift at a restaurant when a group of men with bright red hats walked in. Exuding a very laid-back, artistic vibe that was typical for meetings of civil rights activists, these men stuck out like a sore thumb in the restaurant. The young waitress was instinctively nervous and afraid they might be looking for trouble…
The reason why Harris' first thought was these men might make trouble was not only that their appearance was very out of place but that it was an emotionally charged weekend for the entirety of Washington. Two important marches, namely the President's inauguration and the Women's March, coincided that weekend. The men in red hats were obviously at the inauguration march.
Funnily enough, Harris was at the women's march. The 25-year-old waitress was also a pro dancer. She worked two jobs to make ends meet and get herself through college. Harris was also passionate about social justice, which totally fit with Busboys and Poets, the restaurant she worked at, as it self-proclaimed "a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted..."
It made sense that those red-hatted men had left that particular establishment in silence, and that all the customers and staff were looking at them in disbelief, Harris included. She had always worked hard and didn't want to see any customer drama occur. Unexpectedly, Harris would soon realize that her initial instinct was totally unfair, and the encounter would teach her an important lesson.
When those distinctive men were seated, Harris made two quick assumptions - that they were visitors from out of the capital city, and that they were here to celebrate the president's inauguration. Harris was, of course, right on both accounts, but she would soon learn a lesson to never judge a book by its cover.
The group of men had come all the way from Texas to celebrate the election results. They were thrilled and not ashamed of their proud patriotism. So it was not that surprising that they were casually walking around in their "Make America Great Again" caps. One of the men was named Jason White, and the 37-year-old had much more than just a red cap.
Jason and his friends had visited a number of sites, including the Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with their red caps on display throughout. So when they caught everyone's eyes in such an establishment, Jason suddenly realized that they were wearing the red caps in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Jason then quietly suggested to his friends that they take their hats off while having lunch in the restaurant. "I don't want people to think we're coming in here to flaunt… We're just coming here to have lunch." Harris said nothing about their caps as she was still buzzing from sticking up for her beliefs in the powerful Women's March. She just cheerfully walked over to them…
Harris handled Jason and his pals the menus with a broad smile, which they reciprocated warmly. It didn't take long before they started making jokes together. When Jason told her half-jokingly that they were from West Texas, she laughed and said that she could tell they were from the South. Jason later recalled that "It was a relief for both of us to just laugh together."
After they'd broken the ice, Jason made their orders under Harris' recommendation, and he went on to ask the restaurant's history as he had never experienced a place quite like this. Harris was, of course, very happy to answer their questions. She said Busboys and Poets was named after poet Langston Hughes, as he had worked as a busboy before gaining recognition in literature.
After a buoyant conversation, Harris brought them their orders and left them to enjoy their lunch, thinking that would be the end of their encounter. When Jason and his friends finished their lunch and were ready to leave the restaurant, they said thanks and goodbye to her from afar. Harris warmly replied and then went over to the table to clean up. But she would have never expected what was to come.
Harris noticed a cheque covered in words. She initially thought it was just a careless scribble, but on closer inspection, she realized it was a personal note especially written for her. Harris got interested in the words that read, "We may come from different cultures and may disagree on certain issues… If everyone would share a smile and kindness like your beautiful smile, our country will come together as one people…"
With each sentence, Harris was more and more touched by the heartfelt message. The note concluded with words, "Not race. Not gender. Just American. God bless!" Harris was really invigorated by the idea of how far a smile can go. But she would soon be utterly astounded by what would come next.
These Texan men's total bill for their lunch came in at $72.60. In general, it's exciting for a waitress to get any tip above 20%. Well, Jason had left her a tip of a whopping $450, 625% of their cost. It was just unbelievable! Jason explained that the tip was a nod to the inauguration of the 45th president, and he hoped everyone could go forward together.
Jason hadn't even broken the secret to his friends. He was so touched by everything he had seen in Washington over the wonderful weekend, whether it was the inauguration and the Women's March, or the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the ethnic minority role models on the walls of Busboys and Poets. He thought all these expressed American values and represented the very foundation of what it meant to be American.
This experience inspired Jason so much that he began thinking that people probably had more in common than their appearances show. Harris had a negative impression about the Texans according to their images at first, but she still served them with a smile and then discovered that they actually shared many values. It was this kind of resonance that inspired Jason's incredible act of kindness.
Harris felt extremely emotional for both the heartfelt words and the huge tip. She admitted that she felt guilty about making unfair assumptions about the Texans only based on their appearances and was surprised to find that Jason "was more embracing than even some of my more liberal friends, and there was a real authenticity in our exchange."
For Harris, the generous tip "is a huge weight off my shoulders." She had been about to move into another apartment but hadn't had enough money to pay any upfront costs, so the $450 tip just came at the perfect time. This event "definitely reshaped my perspective" and reminded her that "not to be afraid to connect with someone," as many Americans want unity despite their politics.
Both Harris and Jason had kept this unexpected encounter between themselves. It wasn't publicly known until one of Harris' co-workers posted an image of the receipt on social media. It came as no surprise that the story caught the attention of millions in no time, which brought Harris and Jason a chance to reunite after their fateful encounter at Busboys and Poets.
During an interview, Harris and Jason had an emotional chat via a FaceTime call. They both hoped that people wouldn't misunderstand this act of kindness as "this white guy helping this black girl." The gracious gesture actually came from love and respect for a stranger, whatever they look like. They hoped that their story could set an example that people should "think a little bit before they judge people - on all sides."
Jason said heartfeltly, "We have to think about being better Americans, we have to look into ourselves and how we treat one another… If everyone did a little something to show respect… we can love one another." At the end of the passionate FaceTime conversation, Harris sent Jason a virtue hug, and he reciprocated with a virtual kiss.