What if my Green Dot isn’t enough?

By Melissa Emmal, Senior Trainer 


Recently, I went out to dinner with my friend and fellow Senior Trainer, Sirajah. Somewhere between drinks and appetizers, the night took a turn for the worse when a woman came running out of the restaurant kitchen, pursued by a man who was yelling and escalated. He grabbed her arm, she pulled away and went outside where he followed. As we joined the bartender and server in watching them through the window, we learned it was the restaurant owner that was pursuing the woman and that she was his girlfriend and his employee. They said they would do something if it got physical, they said he was mean to all of them and they worried about her getting hurt. We kept watch, talking about what we would do if it seemed to get worse. When the man came inside, Sirajah went and found the women outside. She offered her a ride somewhere, numbers to call for help, ways to get in touch with us. She told her she didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Later, when the man appeared to be headed back outside to the woman I spoke up. I was worried for her and also mad I was spending money at his restaurant. I interrupted him and told him he was making the whole restaurant uncomfortable and that it wasn’t okay to speak to her that way. He disappeared back into the kitchen. We didn’t see him again but when we paid our bill, the bartender slipped us a tiny folded slip of paper with the woman’s name and contact number. She wanted us to call her. We did, but the man picked up and we didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t put her at risk.

That is the end of the story. No clear ending. No assurance of safety for the woman. We had done a bunch of Green Dots but they just didn’t feel like enough. I felt defeated, angry and sad all at once. Over the next few days, I thought about the woman a lot. I analyzed and worried. Sirajah dreamt about her and woke up feeling upset. The experience weighed heavily on our hearts. When we saw each other again, we had the “what if” conversation. What if we said the wrong thing? What if I made it worse by confronting him? What if because she is a woman of color the services in the area won’t make her feel safe and secure? What if this is bigger than we think – are the other employees safe? Is there anything else we could have done? Could do now?

We will never know the answers to most of those questions. And still, we wrestled with them. But we soon realized that although our green dots didn’t feel like enough, they still accomplished a lot:

  1. The woman got a clear message that this wasn’t okay, that she didn’t deserve it and that people care enough to offer her help.
  2. The restaurant owner heard that his behavior wasn’t okay and that his customers were uncomfortable.
  3. Getting involved, offering resources and checking in was demonstrated and normalized for the restaurant employees.
  4. Other customers saw our interventions and we received some comments and nods of encouragement. Those small actions were Green Dots, too.

Our Green Dots didn’t feel like enough, but they accomplished a lot. In our little corner of the world, at that little restaurant, it was clear to the people all around that violence won’t be tolerated and that we step in for each other, however we can, even when it doesn’t feel like enough, even when it’s difficult. I believe that the Green Dots we placed on the map that day will continue to spread. Maybe next time something happens in her relationship she will use the resources we offered. Maybe her co-workers will remember how we all pulled together and keep trying to intervene and give her options. Maybe other customers present that day will write a letter or a Yelp review or check-in on her next time they are there. And when they are faced with the choice to do something that might not feel like enough and the choice to do nothing – I hope they choose to do a Green Dot, however imperfect or small. When we all make that choice more often, the world will improve before our eyes.

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