People & Perspectives

Hispanic Heritage Month: A Store Manager's Story

Discover how the son of a single mother and Dominican immigrant overcame barriers to succeed in the workplace.
Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
When Sandra Gaton immigrated to the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City in 1980, she had a nursing degree from the Dominican Republic. But that didn’t matter. The credits didn’t translate.

To make ends meet, she took on numerous jobs, from janitorial services in an assisted living facility to odd sewing jobs from home. It was what she had to do to support herself and two children, Arthur and Rosemary, as a single mother.

After years of hard work and little sleep, Sandra overcame the odds to not only learn English, but attend Bronx Community College and earn the credits she needed to become a dialysis nurse. It’s this hustle and dedication that led her son down a similar path, where education and hard work would lead to well-earned success.

Similar to his mother, Arthur experienced discrimination along the way. And now that he’s a Walgreens store manager in Winter Park, Florida, he’s determined to create an inclusive environment for his team, no matter how they identify.

From stock clerk to store manager

Arthur began his career with Walgreens 22 years ago as a stock clerk in Massachusetts. It was then, in 2000, when he would glimpse what it’s like to be a non-white person in the working world.arthur and family resting on car in dominican republic

“I faced a lot of adversity,” reflects Arthur, “I was a big Hispanic dude with braids. I spoke the exact same way as I was brought up in New York. I went to really good schools, but I was still judged on how I appeared. Once, 15 years ago, I had a manager tell me I was never going to move up because of the way I looked, unless I started carrying myself in a different way. I didn’t know what that meant. He always wanted to dance around the idea, and eventually he was honest. He said, ‘Look, it's not me. It's just how the system is.’ He was part of the problem.”

In spite of these prejudices, Arthur began to put himself through business classes and was promoted into a retail associate role. In 2005, his mother moved to Florida to live in the warmer climate she had been missing since leaving the Dominican Republic. However, she was diagnosed with colon cancer shortly after her move, so Arthur moved to the Orlando area to help her recuperate, along with most of her family members.

“That’s a Dominican thing,” Arthur says with a laugh. “Whenever somebody moves, almost everyone ends up moving with them. And my mom is good today. She is a machine. She dealt with it and moved on and is getting up at 4, 5 a.m. for her dialysis job. I work about 20-30 minutes away from her home in Orlando. And now my aunt, my two cousins, my mom and sister all technically live within a 10-minute drive away from me.”

dominican mother, son and daughter
Arthur with mom Sandra (left) and sister Rosemary.

After resettling in Winter Park, Arthur continued moving up the ladder at Walgreens to become a store manager in 2017. But even though he was reaching his professional goals, he felt as though there were unspoken barriers to his continued success.

“At the time, there were very few leaders in the company who looked like me. It always felt like we [Hispanic team members] were great employees. We were really hard workers, but there was no representation.”
Soon that would begin to change.

Branching out via BRGs

Walgreens first introduced Business Resource Groups (BRGs) in 2015. These professional networking groups offer an opportunity for team members around the globe and at all levels to connect with colleagues with similar interests or identities, whether it’s based on ethnicity, ability, gender or more. There is no criteria to join; it is volunteer-based and every BRG welcomes anyone who wants to join. At first, Arthur was skeptical—were these BRGs the real deal?

Support from leadership helped Arthur realize the BRGs were more than talk—they were action and purpose. His district manager, Steven Parrish, and regional vice president, Jon Reitz, who are both white, advocated for joining the BRGs and were active listeners in meetings where honest discussion was encouraged. Arthur saw firsthand that these leaders wanted to hear from team members. He observed them engaging and actively listening to perspectives different than their own. Arthur was motivated to join the Latino Professionals Network, or LPN, and start the work to create a regional chapter.

“To me, the LPN stands for having someone be what I wished I always had: a mentor, someone who could send the message that I could make it. That there is someone who has my back. There is someone who's looking out for me. Seeing all the issues my mom dealt with, I want to make sure I eliminate those issues for everyone else and be part of the change."

To create a regional chapter of LPN, Arthur had to first pin down 10 team members interested in joining, and then gain approval from Parrish and Reitz. Once approved, he took point on supporting the regional chair who reports to national chapter leads by setting up an activities committee, communications committee and membership committee. They support team members on a micro level, such as sourcing ESL classes at local colleges and taking professional headshots, and on a macro level, to glean support for family members affected by the recent Hurricane Fiona and bringing speakers in for lessons on resume-building.

As he’s set up the regional chapter, Arthur has joined other BRGs, including the African American Leadership BRG and Women of Walgreens BRG.

“At the end of the day, we have to understand where everyone's coming from,” Arthur says. “I'm not a woman, but I want to know what they go through. I want to know the struggles. I want to know how I can be an ally and help. My family household was nothing but women, so it's important to me to know they have concerns that are addressed and it's not just something ignored until a day like International Women’s Day.”

Hispanic Heritage Month, day in and day out

Now, in 2022, Arthur is in his fifth year as a store manager and oversees a team of 40 people. He engages his team on an individual level at the beginning and end of the work day to assess needs and help the store hit its goals—but not without adding in some fun.
Flair Day
Arthur and team member Sari sporting Flair Day t-shirts representing their cultures.
“We just had a Hispanic Heritage ‘Flair Day.’ I told the team to wear what they wanted to represent their culture,” he says. “We had tables set up with Hispanic products and T-shirts, and then the customers’ eyes lit up, too. They are getting their representation through us.’"

Outside of work, exploring his heritage and upholding his family’s traditions is integral to Arthur’s life. Along with his girlfriend, who is also Dominican, he:
  • Visits his mother and grandmother, who lives in an assisted living facility and helped raise him, every Sunday

  • Dances merengue, bachata and salsa at the local dance lounge, Cuba Libre (“Dominicans come out the womb dancing,” laughs Arthur.)

  • Crafts Dominican cocktails like the Mama Juana, a mixture of rum, red wine and honey with tree bark and herbs, or the Mezcal Paper Plane, a shaken cocktail featuring mezcal, triple sec, Aperol and lime juice

  • Cooks large family-style meals of twice-fried plantains, pork shoulder and rice, or ropa vieja, a dish with Cuban roots

  • Travels to the Dominican Republic to visit family every two or three years

Arthur has come a long way from his humble beginnings. He’s now a two-time Champion of Champions Award winner, a companywide recognition program, for his focus on recruitment and engagement in his district, and he was ranked No. 1 in his district for protecting more than 1,500 patients by facilitating offsite COVID-19 vaccine clinics. His next goal is to become a district manager, or perhaps take on a human resources role in the corporate office or DE&I team to have an even deeper impact on people at Walgreens.

“It is important to me to be part of the change I am trying to see,” he says. “I want to get into a role or a place in my career where I can help facilitate those changes and focus on true diversity, equity and inclusion. The way I was raised is to always try and be uplifting, the big brother, the person who looks out for people who are ignored. Speak up when you need to, work hard and never dim someone else's light to brighten your own. "

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