I met Grace Lyo while she stood in front of one of the markets she runs in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester. A handful of National Guard soldiers were at a metal barricade nearby. It’s a few days after violence broke out during generally peaceful protests in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Lyo pointed to the name of her small market — Blooming Sun. One she had up the street was called Hae-tteuneun, which means “sun rising” in Korean. “The sun always gives hope,” she says.
She has managed four small markets in the neighborhood, and talks fondly of her customers. She would tell the kids that they could grow up to be president, like Barack Obama. They would bring her their report cards if they got good grades.
“They call her ‘Mama,’” said Marvin Warfield, who lives nearby. “She was like a mama of the community. If you go in the store, right in the front window you see picture of kids in the community, pictures of family. People when they graduate they come and say, ‘Hey, Miss Grace, I just finished school!’ And she’ll hang their pictures in the window.”
Neighbors say when money is tight, Grace lets them pay her later. And neighbors took care of her, too. Earl Williams and his daughter, Shanita, are frequent customers, and live just a few door down from Hae-tteuneun Market.
“We used to take her dinner down there on Christmas or Thanksgiving,” Williams said, sitting on his stoop. Shanita said they’d take her Christmas gifts, too.
Two Mondays ago, Marvin Warfield tried to help Lyo out when the looting and arson broke out. He had spent a lot of that day trying to calm things down in the city. Getting home that night, he saw fire down the street.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have family down there,’” he remembered. “My first reaction was to go check on the family and get them out of the house. And after that, we see that it was Miss Grace’s store [Hae-tteuneun] — the back of her store — starting to burn down. So my first reaction was, this is Miss Grace’s store, we have to help her because she helped us out so much.”
He and a few other people grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran some garden hoses down to the store.
Source: PRI | Bruce Wallace, PRI’s The World