Henry Darby’s heart was pounding like a freight train. He felt silly and ashamed, pressed up against a shelf in the canned goods aisle, hiding from his students.
A cocktail of emotion coursed through him. He knew it wouldn’t be long before everyone knew. His mind raced for an answer. How would he explain this?
For 56-year-old Henry Darby, being an educator was a lifelong dream. Thirty years on, he never imagined that he would become a principal too.
Being the head of the North Charleston High School in South Carolina was his life’s greatest privilege. However, he would soon discover what the phrase, “heavy is the head that wears the crown,” truly meant.
Darby never fancied himself a king. A warm, soft-spoken, and kindhearted man, Darby epitomized true humility. He never boasted or held himself above anyone else despite his successful career.
The product of a hard upbringing, Darby felt that honest work and humility were endangered virtues. He never expected that he’d have to associate shame with these traits too.
Darby hadn’t known an easy life. Achieving his dream of being an educator was a constant struggle that took much hard work. Being principal was an honor he never took for granted.
As a leader, he felt a personal sense of responsibility for his students and faculty. He never imagined how much heartache the role would also bring him.
His students’ (affectionately called his “grandchildren”) struggles with life’s challenges reminded Darby of personal battles. The problem of poverty had been increasing in areas of Charleston.
It was now estimated that 21 percent of residents there lived below the poverty line. It had gotten so bad that Darby had recently been feeling the pinch personally.
Darby began feeling pressure from all angles. His job had suddenly lost its luster. The struggle to stay afloat financially dominated Darby’s mind. He found himself constantly worried.
Determined not to let these problems affect his students, he hoped they would never find out. He knew if they did, the shame would be unbearable.
Darby’s sleepless nights spent worrying over how to stay afloat did not go unnoticed by his family. It was clear there was no way to make ends meet.
He tried desperately to find a solution. Despite his best efforts, he knew there was no way he could spare his family from the strain.
With his calm, ever-smiling face, Darby was respected as a warm and gentle person. He was also aware of how quickly opinions could change in today’s world.
He was too old for a “side hustle.” There was no other way. All he could do was keep looking out for extra work somewhere and hope no one found out.
Approaching the manager of a local Walmart, Mike Shaw, Darby decided to speak to him. Shaw offered him an opportunity to put in some shifts at the store a few days a week.
This was going to be tricky and came with a catch. His role as a principal aside, he’d now have to work nights too.
The job placed a significant strain on Darby and his family. As the principal of a large public school, he already had a ton on his plate.
It did mean that he could now earn some extra money. All things considered, the new job was going well, but this all changed in the blink of an eye.
During his night shifts, Darby had grown accustomed to solitude. Ignoring the strain, he spent nights dutifully packing Walmart’s shelves.
One night, all was quiet until animated voices pierced the air. Darby looked up. To his horror, he saw a group of his students milling around the parking lot. It was clear, they had seen him.
Darby never felt so conscious of himself. Calling a special assembly the next day, he admitted working at Walmart. Students and faculty shuffled nervously at the news.
Thinking he was struggling financially, they were stunned to learn the truth. The money earned from Walmart was actually being donated to the school and paid for much-needed services.
A hush fell over the school gymnasium. No one stirred, and Darby’s cheeks began to burn. For a moment, he felt ashamed. He thought he could single-handedly solve the school’s financial crisis by working at Walmart?
They must all think he was a fool. These thoughts nagged at him but, suddenly, something unexpected happened.
An explosion of euphoria, the entire school, began cheering and clapping. At that moment, all of the sleepless nights, fears, and stresses faced were all worth it.
No one was ashamed. His selfless gesture had endeared him to everyone more. In time, he would be honored in fitting ways, but it was his “grandchildren” that would surprise him most.
After learning of Darby’s sacrifices to keep the school afloat, students approached Walmart personally. Some picked up after-school shifts and donated paychecks to the school.
Others held fundraisers. Darby never had to work a night shift again. After hearing the whole story of their special night clerk’s selfless gestures, Walmart themselves ensured this.