Opinion: Inspiration in a red Solo cup

Joe Cane holds his sign at his lemonade stand last week (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

SDN Editor

There is a whole lot of good in the world and with the right set of eyes and a willing heart, you might catch a glimpse of it.

We often expect kindness or hope to come wrapped with a bow and paraded across a high-definition TV screen. Too many times we choose to overlook the things in our community we should be proud of, opting instead to live vicariously through feel-good videos on Facebook.

But sometimes, good can be found on the side of a gravel road far outside of the city limits.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of summer, so when it became apparent that the choking humidity was here to stay, it got my spirits down. It shouldn’t come as a surprise but it happens every year for me.

As the mercury peaked in thermometers across the county a few days ago, I was getting ready to pack it in and leave the office when my phone rang at about 10 minutes until 5 p.m.

Against my gut feeling that nothing would come from the caller, I answered the phone and was met with what sounded like an older lady with a story tip. But after seeing the effects of her suggestion in hindsight, she could have been an angel for all I know.

The caller told me about a young man selling lemonade at the corner of Sixteenth Section Road and Old West point Road, across from Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. She wanted the newspaper to report on something positive, for once, so I sighed and told her I would go check it out.

For the entire 10-minute drive from the office to this makeshift lemonade stand, I thought to myself “you have to start saying ‘no’ at some point or you’re going to run yourself in the ground.”

Days later I’m still reeling from how wrong I was.

It was particularly humid that day, but when I arrived at the crossroads I was greeted by a waving Joe Cane, a 15-year-old entrepreneur selling ice-cold lemonade to raise money for a trip to Mississippi Comic Con. He was holding a marked-up poster as his storefront sign and handed out lemonade in red Solo cups to at least five or six motorists during the short time I stood with him.

Instead of taking a simple picture of the lad like I originally intended, I chatted with him for a bit and found out to some extent what makes this young businessman tick. I then decided to write a feature story to highlight his hard work.

If you had asked me then, I would have told you the story was heart-warming, but not one that would reach the number of people it did.

Again, I was so wrong. Nearly every day since the story ran, I have been approached, messaged and called about how to help Joe reach his goal of paying for a trip to Mississippi Comic Con this weekend in Jackson.

And as fate would have it, I was contacted on Wednesday night by a representative from Mississippi Comic Con offering Joe VIP passes to the event, which is sure to make the experience that much more memorable. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

He was elated at the news of his VIP status, but he also has similar passes to Golden Triangle Comic Con in Columbus and Nerd-Vana in Oxford - all from convention leaders impressed by his story. So, if you’re looking to book this young upstart, you will have to plan accordingly around his convention schedule, work hours and swimming lessons.

What I want to see happen, though, is for the community to make this young man a catalyst to further recognize the good that we have right here in the Golden Triangle.

Often we want so much to focus on violence and scandal, while the best parts of our community can easily go overlooked.

Joe is a sterling example of what is right in Mississippi. He embodies the ideals of hard work, positivity and humility - traits I think many of us could benefit from.

I spoke with Joe on the phone last night and he is eager to tell me and the rest of Mississippi about his third Mississippi Comic Con trip earned by the sweat from his brow in the brutal summer sun.

Except this time, it’ll be different. Instead of counting out crumpled up dollars bills and saving every last penny, he will be able to use the money he worked so hard for on himself. From our few conversations, I know he plans to get his mother and sister gifts at the comic book convention, but my hope is that he will get himself something special.

Lord knows he’s earned it.

So take Joe’s story and apply it to your daily life. It can be something a simple as smiling and telling someone to “have a blessed day,” like he does with every single customer. Or it can be something as complex as finding a way to help someone reach their goals like these comic book convention organizers did when they heard Joe’s story.

Buying lemonade might cost money, but kindness is free.

And if you’re thirsty and driving around out in the county, go visit Joe’s lemonade stand for your own red Solo cup of inspiration.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the newspaper or its staff.