Royal Oak market owner says he learned from controversial stance on ‘Black Lives Matter’ messages

Tom Violante says online backlash led to teachable moment

Royal Oak market owner says he learned from controversial stance on ‘Black Lives Matter’ messages
Royal Oak market owner says he learned from controversial stance on ‘Black Lives Matter’ messages

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – A Royal Oak business owner who was heavily criticized for his initial response to employees wearing “Black Lives Matter” messages said he learned from the experience and supports the message.

The Black Lives Matter movement is sparking conversations about race across the country, including in the corporate world.

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Tom Violante, the owner of Holiday Market in Royal Oak, spoke with Local 4 about a controversial Facebook post that has since been deleted.

There were two posts. The first was in response to rumors Holiday Market had fired two workers for wearing Black Lives Matters messages on their uniforms. The second included an apology.

Violante said the conversation that happened between those two posts was a teachable moment.

“The first post was mostly to define what really happened, and the second post defined who we are,” Violante said.

Violante isn’t mincing words about what happened.

“I think you have to be vulnerable,” he said. “You have to develop empathy. You have to want to say, ‘I want to understand that and I want to become better.’”

Last week, two employees wore signs that said, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.”

“The first incident happened, and I was there, and I said, ‘Let him have it, no problem,’” Violante said. “The second instance happened. I wasn’t there, and someone was trying to follow our policy.”

As rumors spread that the workers were fired, Violante wrote a lengthy post on Facebook, saying, “The reason we do not allow messaging on our uniform is eventually we get into the business of determining which message is good or bad.”

After facing backlash online, Violante started listening, and he said he spoke to the White and Latino employees who had worn the signs.

“I had the opportunity to talk to these individuals and learn this is a movement that’s way beyond policy, and it represents who we are,” Violante said.

In his second post, Violante wrote, “Holiday Market stands firmly in the truth that Black Lives Matter. It’s very clear I missed the mark on my Facebook post.”

“The approach was heartless,” Violante said. “It was all about, as you said, corporate speak and protection. I apologized in my post.”

He’s hoping others, especially in the corporate world, are willing to have these types of conversations.

“I don’t regret all that happened because a lot of really good dialogue -- at my expense -- but a lot of powerful conversations happened.”

Violante said he ordered a large quantity of pins saying “Black Lives Matter” and “enough is enough” for workers to wear if they want to. He said he’s made a $2,500 donation to the Equal Justice Initiative.

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