“When I get close to $50, let me know,” says a tired-looking woman in a blue shirt and jeans as Diamond rings up her chicken legs, Lucky Charms and other items.
And there are buoyant college students in Norfolk State and Old Dominion sweatshirts, breezing in for soda, beer and endless bags of chips.
They come one after another — neighbor, college student.
Neighbor: “Can you put that to the side? I’ll go to the other store, where they’ll be cheaper.”
College student: “You can keep the change. I don’t need it.”
As high school graduation nears, Diamond’s $7.75-per-hour, six-hour shift at the register offers a subtle lesson in what she hopes to escape and what she hopes to become.
Diamond has been an arrow aimed at college for as long as she can remember. Her parents think she could be the first member of her family to get a degree. Her teachers and counselor at Granby High School have pushed her to sign up for Advanced Placement classes, take the SAT and apply to four-year universities.
Even the president of the United States once challenged her to set the bar high.
Barack Obama was on his way to becoming the first black leader of the nation when he visited Diamond’s freshman leadership class on Sept. 10, 2008. She and two dozen classmates were just starting high school, and Obama’s heady message of hope resonated with many of them.
But in a matter of days, a financial meltdown plunged the country into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — a crash that would take its toll on Diamond, her parents, and many of her friends and classmates.
Four years later, the president is trying to win a second term, in part, by re-energizing minority voters hit hard by the recession in such swing states as Virginia. And Diamond, whose father has been unemployed on and off for months and whose mother has turned to food banks to help feed six children, is trying to figure out a way to pay for college.
Those financial pressures are never far from Diamond’s mind at Bottom Dollar (which has since been renamed Food Lion), where a customer buying a beer and a bottle of barbecue sauce called the manager over to contest a 41-cent overcharge.
Diamond smiles throughout her shift, charming even the most stressed-out shoppers with her deep dimples, luminous brown eyes and natural warmth. “So what’s for dinner?” she asks an elderly neighbor, putting a smile on the man’s face.
Yet as customers stream through her line, she can’t help wondering which group she’ll be joining come fall: the hoodie-wearing college crowd or the folks trying to scrape by?
On the third day of her freshman year of high school, Diamond bounded off the school bus and headed to the cafeteria for breakfast.
Black curtains had been hung in the hallways. The entrance to the library was closed off. Yellow buses were lined nose to tail in the back lot as a makeshift barrier. “Stay away from the windows,” she was told. Men in dark suits were all over the building. Snipers stood on the roof of the elementary school next door.