Among the many experiences I have had over my time here at Dickinson, I never expected purchasing a bag of popcorn would have such a meaningful impact on my life. At the time I am writing this article, I have officially been working for Gourmet Popcorn of Carlisle for six months. This past half-a-year has been filled with many laughs, lessons, and maturing.
My initial interaction with Chris Nelson, owner and founder of Gourmet Popcorn of Carlisle, was during my time working for the Dickinson College Farm the summer after my freshman year. I was working Farmers on the Square, Carlisle’s local farmers market, when I saw Chris setting up his table and tent. Our tables were across from each other and when I was given a break from selling farm pizzas, I approached him about his products. I have a serious sweet tooth and he had candy apple popcorn. I was sold. Little did I know that would go from buying his popcorn, to helping to sell it all throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
Much of my time at Dickinson has been spent surrounded by white faces occupying predominantly white spaces. Last year I struggled a lot with my depression and did not feel that I had a space or a place where I could go and heal. Chris and his wife Chavon, an OB-GYN in the Carlisle area, have provided me with that healing space. Whether it be helping to put up a Christmas tree in their house, having a Nerf war with their son, or being on the road selling popcorn, I have really found a place with them.
In my opinion, my experience working for a black owned family business in an area like Carlisle has really empowered me. I’m able to unapologetically be me while working in a professional setting. With the racial tension that has been highlighted this year at the college and greater Carlisle area, a business that not only employs students of color, but whose owners also welcome them to their home, and offer them opportunities to further themselves shows a very different take to the stigmatic perceptions of African-Americans living in Carlisle.
The Nelsons have not only provided me a job in which I get to travel, network, and learn more about the inner workings of a small business, but they have also provided me a family away from family and a home away from home. Every other Sunday I visit their home and have lunch with them and often bring friends. They extend the same kindness they have to me to my friends and offer them opportunities to work with them or connect them with other opportunities.
Besides the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity, I know of not many places where students of color can work on-campus and be themselves unapologetically and free from the anxiety of white gazes. I wish more students were able to experience what I have working for the Nelsons. I think that those types of support systems are crucial as a student of color at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution).