When Keri Courtwright clocked into her shift on Monday as the night time janitor at Syracuse University, little did she realize that her actions would inspire others to take a stand against bigotry.
The 35 year old New York resident had been cleaning up graffiti at the university as the night janitor for nearly 13 years. However, when she was approached by one of the university staff members before beginning her shift to clean up some extremely vile racist graffiti, she knew that this was more than just innocuousness scribble on a bathroom wall by immature college-aged students.
Armed with an assortment of cleaning products and some good old fashioned elbow-grease, Keri set about tackling the hateful graffiti describing Asians emblazoned in colorful magic makers, on the once pristine ceramic tiles.
As she vigorously scrubbed the hateful words off the tile surface, she began to get angry. With each passing swipe of the coarse sponge, she became angrier and angrier, until every racist word was finally scrubbed away, revealing once again a shiny and clean bathroom wall.
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Keri recalls thinking to herself; “I can’t deal with this level of hate. I had to do something, something to get the good energy back out there.”
Adding; “It’s an angry type of hate.”
Gazing down at the bucket of dirty water, Keri began to rationalize that if she could scrub away hateful and demeaning words on a bathroom wall, by that same logic, she could replace those racist words with a more positive message. A message that reminds everyone, even those haters, that we’re all the same, and that no one should be defined by the color of their skin.
The next night, Keri arrived early at the university before she was required to sign into her shift. She had spent the entire day preparing dozens of inspirational quotes that she printed on her computer, and assembled them into small poster size cards, big enough to be seen, however small enough to avoid any trouble from college administrators.
When her shift began, Keri started her nightly rounds by emptying a garbage can and scotch-taping an inspirational quote on it. She then began tapping her positive messages on doors, in hallways, on bathroom mirrors, even on paper-towel dispensers…anywhere a message could be placed, Keri placed them.
Some of her inspirational quotes simply read; A lot of people just need someone to be kind today. Kindness changes everything. We are different and that’s beautiful.
At the end of her shift Keri had placed over 30 messages of kindness for people to find the next morning. Some of her co-workers, after witnessing Keri’s selfless act of kindness, also joined in, randomly placing positive messages while cleaning around the university.
However, not everyone within the hallowed halls of academia appreciated Keri’s effort to unite students, in that most of her goodwill messages were removed.
“I was just trying to make people smile,” she said. However, Keri isn’t deterred. She’ll just keep on posting positive messages as quickly as they are removed, or unless someone officially tells her to stop.
In Huntington Hall, one of the quotes she had hung on a wooden door met each person who walked through at eye level: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”