GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — Standing in an empty parking lot at Grand Rapids’ Garfield Park, Cydney Warner and Marcel Price met for the very first time.
Cydney, 7, and her family had the meeting with Price, the executive director of The Diatribe, a nonprofit group that uses spoken word, creative writing and performance poetry as a tool to get people talking about the way they see the world.
Her face hidden by her mask, Cydney’s eyes give away her smile. She could hardly contain her excitement as she handed over a $1,000 check to the nonprofit.
“Thank you so much. You are an absolute rock star,” Price said, surprised by the money. He had anticipated only $525.
“I wish every business owner had the intentionality that you had,” Price added.
Cydney is technically not a business owner. She’s more of a lemonade activist.
For the last three years, she has begged her parents for a lemonade stand and they’ve said no for no other reason than it seemed like a lot of work. This year, they saw her plea for lemonade as an opportunity to teach.
“She’s very unique. She’s very special,” Cydney’s dad Chris Warner said. “She’s very energetic, she’s very fun, she’s very loving. She’s a combination of a lot of good things.”
The Warners knew if they were going to let Cydney start her own lemonade stand, she would give whatever she raised to do good.
“We found a post on Instagram where it showed probably 10 different Black-run organizations in Grand Rapids and we researched all of them and The Diatribe, that really stuck out to her,” Cydney’s mother Jessica Warner explained. “Through poetry and music and their mission of being inclusive, that’s really important to her.”
Getting the lemonade stand off the ground was the first step. Cydney’s mom helped with a few signs that spelled out what was for sale: $1 for a glass of lemonade. Cydney signed it in the corner, “Love Cyd.” That was propped next to a “Black Lives Matter” sign. Both sat under a patio table with a pitcher of Country Time Lemonade on top.
Cydney said the line started to build the minute she opened for business. First a few friends, then her parents’ friends, and before she knew it the neighbor down the street was bringing in strangers participating in a drive-thru celebration. Business was good.
More importantly, the Warners could see the tool of lemonade cultivating action in their daughter.
“It makes me made that people didn’t get treated fairly but at the same time, I want to change that,” Cydney said.
After her second lemonade stand and a little help from family and friends across the state, Cydney and the Warners set out for the big parking lot surprise.
Their message, their hope and their work went well beyond the check.
“I think one of the biggest takeaways from this whole thing is, yup, she raised a lot, but it did not all come from the lemonade stand. It came from donations from our family and friends. It came from donations from people we went to college with in the U.P., from people that genuinely may not be affected by Black Lives Matter,” Jessica Warner said. “Having her do this, it has brought awareness to a lot of people that I’m not sure would have taken the time to educate themselves on what is happening in our world. And that’s one of the greatest things that I, as a white woman, can continue to promote in my family. We’ve got to start in our family.”
Cydney is now part of The Diatribe family. Her $1000 donation is one fifth of their summer camp budget and in a year when nonprofits have suffered due to the pandemic, her contribution toward change couldn’t be more impactful.
“Our words are incredibly powerful. I feel like especially when coming from young people, young dynamic people like Cyd,” Price said. “The thing that’s even more beautiful about this story is it’s people who look like us doing something to raise funds to help people who look like them continue to make more space for people who look like us.”
Cydney said she was inspired to help “people who look like her” after she saw the unrest in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd. It’s why she proudly displayed the Black Lives Matter sign at her stand.
“It basically means that Black lives do matter,” Cydney said. “Like people shouldn’t get killed for no reason just because of the color of their skin. Pretty simple.”
Cydney hopes her lemonade donation turns into an annual Diatribe scholarship to give people just like her the chance to talk about the world as they see it.
“It is sad that young kids have to see the lemons but it’s up to us adults to put our bodies in front of it so that they take less shots,” Price said. “But young people are literally showing us right now that they’ll take those lemons and make lemonade and create change from it. So look at the beauty in that.”