Social media generates support for small business owner facing religious discrimination

Published: Nov. 18, 2019 at 6:18 PM CST
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People are traveling to Appleton to show their support for one small business owner struggling with religious discrimination.

The owner of Sapphire Moon Chocolates, 1741 N. Casaloma Dr., hopes to use her shop as a place for everyone to find common ground.

"A lot of people get transported back by a smell or a sight or a sound of their childhood, and that's what we hoped," said Tarina Swanson, owner of Sapphire Moon Chocolates. "To go back to a time when it wasn't so hard."

Among the antiques and sweet treats sits Swanson, waiting to greet customers with smiles and warmth; however, she says it is not always reciprocated.

"I would pop up over the counter and say, 'Hi there.' They would look at me kind of blankly, and they would just turn around and leave," said Swanson.

A sign hanging in the front window reads 'Veteran Owned Business.'

Swanson proudly calls herself a United States Army veteran.

Unfortunately, some customers fixated on something else: her head covering and Islamic beliefs.

"I think it's critically important that anybody no matter what their racial identity, sexual identity, any ways in which they live outside the margins, can be successful in this community if they put in the work," said Tracey Robertson, executive director of Fit Oshkosh.

One of Swanson's former professors and a strong advocate for increasing intercultural competence of people in the community, Robertson invited others to join her at Sapphire Moon Chocolates including Pastor Connie Weiss.

"Basically just said, 'Can I take a picture? I'll post it if you're okay with that, and I'll encourage some of my friends to come to the shop," said Weiss.

"I didn't really know what happened with the post," said Swanson. "I just know there was a post. We took a pretty picture by the tree. That's all I know."

The post went viral overnight with nearly 4,000 shares and nearly 3,000 reactions in a matter of days.

"But this is the thing, I don't think we know how much power we have and how those small little acts of humanity can blow up," said Weiss. "I think we're hungry for it. We're hungry to hear kind words. We're hungry to walk alongside people and say, 'You're not alone.'"

"You don't do social justice work because it's easy. You do it because you believe in the power of people and people having moral standards," said Robertson. "That just, for me, validated everything that I thought. People really are innately good."

Swanson says people started lining up to see her business almost immediately. She hopes to donate profits from the store to help support the elderly, disabled, working-class poor, and veterans in the community.

"This store has a mission and a purpose, and it's not just about selling chocolate. It's about meeting the needs of people," she said.