Our Black Mentors | Why Black Lives Matter
A message from the Founder and President:
Many of you know me as a “science guy”, a consultant for food and supplements who always tries to go the extra mile and do the right thing for our clients. Many of our clients aren’t aware that the values of NaturPro are essentially the same as the values of the people who have influenced me, in particular, the Black men who have influenced my life.
When I was 14, I went to work for Glenn Ebersole, my dad, at the Country Club of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. I spent almost every holiday, summer and busy weekend there until I was 22. Although my parents and family, and my education and work experiences are the foundation of NaturPro Scientific, some of the most important lessons of my life came from the Black men who trained and mentored me at the club.
Ron, who is Black, is a banquet legend in Central PA. (I changed his name to protect his privacy). I’ll always remember Ron in a tux uniform, a shining gold-toothed smile, gliding in between the crowd with a giant stacked tray of dirty china hoisted high in the air, so smooth that no one even sees him there. Ron was known to carry 32 entrees at a time, 16 plates tray-stacked, on each hand. Ron could set a formal service for 100 guests in an hour, by himself.
I was the kind of teenager who didn’t like to listen to my dad, if for no other good reason than he was the boss, and I was a teenager. Ron understood that, and he took me under his wing, and called me a brother. My dad set the high standards, but Ron taught them and got me to meet them, all by example. My time with Ron came with valuable lessons on life, that I believe Black men in America are uniquely qualified to share.
Private country clubs in America are places where the disparity between the staff and the members is especially striking. In the 1990’s, there were no Black club members at CCH. But Black people, and people of color made up most of our full-time staff. My dad paid and treated all his staff fairly. He gave second and third chances to his employees, and posted bail and gave out more loans than he can probably remember. As a staff, we were all in it together in the aim to keep guests happy, while bearing daily witness to the engine of inequality in America.
Ron’s driver’s license was suspended for 18 years after being caught joyriding as a teenager. But I don’t remember Ron ever complaining or making excuses about it. He showed up for work every day, often a few minutes late, usually in a taxi or on his bicycle after riding the few miles to work.
When Ron got his driving privilege back, he never went back to get his license. When I asked why, he said he wanted to stay out of trouble. They’re not gonna get me again, I remember him saying with his Carolina country drawl that was often difficult for us PA folk to understand.
Ron taught me my first lessons about quality assurance, in the form of the most effective and efficient technique used to wipe water stains from every piece of silver and glass. Not many restaurants wipe their silverware, which is why there’s always water marks on them.
Wiping silver and glass for formal service requires a certain technique to do correctly and efficiently, using a clean cloth of just the right type (clean, white, 100% cotton hand towel), and with just the right amount of water. If the cloth is too dry, it doesn’t wipe off the water marks. Too wet and it just creates new water marks. The water used for wiping silverware should also be just the right temperature (hot, from the coffee machine, but allowed to cool in the cloth for a few minutes so that it doesn’t burn your hand). That way, the water left from wiping evaporates and doesn’t create new water marks.
This was all Ron’s technique he developed to make sure the silverware looked like new for every guest, without it being an all-day project. Using this technique, one of us could clean and inspect about 1,000 pieces of spotless silverware per hour. Wiping silverware was the only time we got to sit down all day, so we looked forward to wiping silverware, as we listened to old R&B on an old clock radio, and I listened to Ron talk about life.
Ron didn’t bark orders. Most of the time, he simply and quietly did the job better than anyone else. Ron expected everyone else to watch and learn, to try their best, to be helpful and not lazy. But slow-walking and empty hands were the red flags for which Ron would watch everyone closely, and he wasn’t afraid to call you out on it when he needed to.
Ron protected and helped me, covered for my mistakes on the floor without question or judgment, and helped me clean up the china and glasses I broke. Ron put me in the position to look good, when I was 15 and anything but. He did that for everyone else too – it was a team effort, always. Because if one person screws up, then we all screwed up. As I got older, the two of us flawlessly ran 5-course white-cloth meals for 100+ guests, with no other communication needed aside from nods and hand signals.
Ron taught me some of the most important lessons about work, and about life, that a teenager can learn. These were the important lessons we all need to learn when we’re young. Lessons about going the extra mile to make the guests happy. Lessons about taking responsibility and working hard. About picking your battles, holding your tongue and saying the right things at the right time, when the truth matters.
There were numerous lessons about how food should look on a plate. There were many lessons about what real street smarts are, and about the importance of trust and loyalty, that I will always have with me. There were lessons about doing the right thing, even when everyone else thinks is right doesn’t make any sense. There were lessons about staying positive and having a sense of humor during life’s challenges. And lessons about taking the time to enjoy a cold Coors Light at the end of the day.
Ron didn’t talk about white privilege, but he didn’t need to. We saw it in action, every day at work. We had to have thick skin for some of the rude looks and the nasty comments from guests, and meet them with a smile. I learned that what other people think, no matter how rich they are, or the color of skin – it doesn’t matter, as long as you stick to your own values and intuition. Ron rarely talked about how he had been treated unfairly by the system that took away half a lifetime of driving privileges for his harmless joyride. And at the time, I knew I benefited just by the color of my skin, without needing it explained.
Ron is not the only Black mentor I had at the club who did hard time just for being Black. There was Ron’s friend, Curtis. Curtis is quiet, humble, hardworking. The maintenance guy and cleaner who knew how to remove every type of stain. I learned from Curtis that sometimes the cleaning sprays don’t work, and you just have to scrub the shit out of a stain until its gone. Curtis knew how to fix everything with duct tape and still make it look like new.
Curtis’s skin was dark as night. He did time in county jail for threatening a white co-worker who had stolen money from him. He was a big, strong guy, could bench 400 pounds and run five miles without breathing heavy. After scrubbing the locker rooms and shining golf shoes all day, Curtis would don the tux and haul trays at night until exhaustion. Curtis showed up for work every day with a level of loyalty and dedication that is rare for anyone of any skin color.
There are a lot more Ron’s and Curtis’s I’ve known, but they are two of the high-character Black people who have influenced me greatly. I know and trust Ron and Curtis, my dad knows and trusts them, and numerous influential white people in the Harrisburg area know and trust them.
Yet Ron and Curtis had their lives turned upside down for behavior that white people typically get a slap on the wrist for.
Today, I’m aware of white people who would call Ron and Curtis “thugs”, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ron and Curtis are Black people, who I would choose to be in my corner, any day. And they deserve better from America.
There’s millions of Ron’s and Curtis’s out there who’s stories are lost in labels of ignorance. That’s why Black Lives Matter to me, and that’s why we are long overdue for real and permanent change in this country.
On behalf of NaturPro Scientific, I am pledging our support to the following:
–Sharing the stories of our experiences with great Black people like Ron and Curtis, and encouraging others to do the same.
–Encouraging all white people in America to understand and reflect on the issues facing Black people, and people of all colors, nationalities, races, genders and sexualities.
–Communicating on issues of diversity within our network in the food and supplement space
–Donating to organizations supporting Black people, such as Black Lives Matter and ACLU
I hope that you will join me.
President and Founder
NaturPro Scientific LLC