By Dale King
On any given day, you’re likely to find Ken Lerman standing outside a grocery store, a mall or some other locale that normally draws crowds of shoppers, folks on the go or men and women hustling to appointments.
These days, the crowds are likely to be smaller than in the past, and the people shopping, attending to business and taking care of errands are undoubtedly wearing facemasks as protection against the continuing threat of coronavirus.
Most of these people are probably bummed out or just plain demoralized because of the tumult and chaos that’s turned America and the rest of the world upside down.
Lerman wants to make everyone feel better by giving them a red rose to show he loves them. He’s out and about at various locations throughout north Broward and south Palm Beach County several times a week to promote his personal crusade called “Roses for Change.”
“This is a global love movement where we have love marches to give out roses and say ‘I love you,’” said Lerman, who has operated a printing shop in Pompano Beach for 35 years. His sunny bright attitude has won him the moniker, “The Happy Printer.”
Lerman said he got the idea for the exultant flower distribution following the death of George Floyd earlier this year in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death during police apprehension seems to have ignited a series of protests that often became violent and destructive and fed a wave of racial tension.
“For me, I don’t see skin color. I see us all as human beings,” said the Happy Printer. “We all can love each other. I mean love is simple.”
“The first thing I did was, I went to Whole Foods and Publix, bought flowers and gave out roses to all the African Americans in the store. I said, ’I love you’ and they said, ‘I love you’ back. And then they said, ’God bless you’ and ‘we need love now more than ever before,’” the flower giver explained.
Lerman posted pictures of his love largesse on Facebook and received hundreds of “likes.” Suddenly, a movement was born – and people from all over began to join the campaign of this specially designated, garden-style Pied Piper.
Some of his followers buy roses to give out at his appearances. Lerman said about 20 folks from his entourage joined him to distribute flowers to people at Town Center Mall in Boca Raton. He has also been handing out flowers at Mizner Park, and recently showed up at a Publix on Military Trail in Greenacres.
Filling a shopping card with about three dozen roses that he purchased, Lerman approached some of the shoppers as they entered the store on a very hot, bright Sunday midday. “Have a flower. We love you,” he said. Some took the offering of love, and many thanked the rose donor for his kindness. Many seemed surprised at the show of affection in a tumultuous world.
But on this day, the flower festivity would not go as smoothly as at other times. The assistant store manager, Josh Rongione, appeared at the entry door and told Lerman and his supporters to leave.
The flower man removed the bouquets from the carriage and headed for a Winn Dixie on Hypoluxo Road in nearby Lake Worth. The departure was quick and peaceful.
Later, Rongione told the Boca Newspaper that he had gotten several complaints from customers who said Lerman was blocking the doorway. The store official also said that to gather a crowd during a mask-demanding pandemic was not an appropriate behavior “with everything that is happening in the world.”
At the Winn Dixie, though, Lerman said he was met at the door by a manager who took him around the market to give flowers to all employees and lots of customers. Lerman said his reception was exceptional.
“If I had a zillion flowers, I would give away a zillion,” he said as he raised a bouquet over his head. ”Everyone wants to spread love and give away roses.”
Kristina Martin, a Lake Worth resident who had arrived in Florida from Wisconsin a week earlier, received several flowers from Lerman. “I love them,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing to spread positivity. It makes people happy.”
Leslie Morris, who drove to Palm Beach County from Weston to help distribute flowers, said giving out the colorful blossoms showed “unconditional love for humanity. It puts a smile on people’s faces and spreads compassion in this really rough time.”
“There should be more love,” she said, “and less hate.”
Lerman explained the rationale behind his rose project. “I just love people,” he said. “I do this to honor my mom and dad. My mother will be 85 years old soon. These are the people who gave me life.”
“Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all just give roses to each other instead of what’s actually going on?” he asked. “To me, that’s a way to spread the message of love?”
The distributor of colorful symbols said he is looking for sponsors to support the effort and to join him when he’s handing out the special symbols.