Late in her elementary school years, Rakhel Perkins remembers passing notes with a friend as a boring substitute teacher taught the class. The friend wrote some profanity on the note and when the teacher came back and searched her desk, it was her who was reprimanded for the foul language. She remained quiet and endured the discipline, informing her parents about it later that night.
“I was too timid to tell the teacher it wasn’t mine. My mom asked me ‘why would you carry someone else’s blame?’ I’m a person of confidence now…but back then I didn’t speak up.”
The Team Members of 144 Fulton Street would have a hard time believing the radiant “Rocky” who joyfully holds down the line in the kitchen was once a shy girl unable to speak up in front of others.
She grew up in the diversity and vibrance of Brooklyn, with a dental hygienist as a dad, and a mom actively involved in multiple projects in their community as she served on the city board. Rocky’s first job was a junior counselor for a new non-profit helping kids after school. They met in a basement and paid her fifty bucks a week. She helped them out five straight years, helping them grow into a highly successful organization.
At sixteen, she worked for Macy’s for $7.25 an hour, and eventually quit school to work there, “valuing money more than education.” She lied to her mom that she was going to school, leaving every day at seven am and coming home after four.
Her path took her through multiple jobs, many of them in the food industry, and while she enjoyed some of the experiences, others were short-lived and frustrating. After quitting work at a recent job, she wanted a change and moved to North Carolina. But after a month, she hopped on a bus and headed back to the city, without even packing her clothes. “I was going through a rough patch before I got hired here. I hit a downward spiral; I wanted to own the world but didn't know how.”
She struggled with a deep tiredness, and bouts of depression, but eventually knew she had to get back in the game. Applying for jobs through multiple platforms, she met Austin Haydel at a Fulton Street Group Audition for candidates interested working at Chick-fil-A.
“He spoke about giving everything for something you believed in, and then giving a little bit more, because we all have a little bit more in us.” She left the interview “feeling so good and so different. I’ve always been the one that made the job better, no job had ever touched me…I researched the brand more, and discovered everyone loved it.”
She’d been considering going to school for medical billing and nursing, after working hard to earn her GED, but the experience at that audition hooked her in. Through the interview process, Rocky met another director, Connor Chaffin, who had come to NYC with Luke, and she heard his story. When he hired her, he shared his excitement at being a part of her journey.
His interest in her story and development was the first taste of what the culture at Fulton Street would be like. “It’s nice to be in an environment where people give back, too…like there’s always water you can take from the well of Rocky, but it’s so great here having folks putting buckets back in. If I miss one day here, people are asking the next day where I’ve been.”
Through all her ups and downs, Rocky has maintained a broad spectrum of hopes and interests, with dreams of performing one day. She often participates in local open mic nights to sing or share her poetry, or support other artists. “Nobody would recognize me on stage…I love writing, but I love singing, too.”
She pictures where her future could be five years from now, and pauses before sharing, “I could totally have gone famous. I started wanting to be a journalist, then an english teacher, to an art teacher…or I could be a producer, songwriter, standup comedian, full-time poet, maybe a nurse…"
She views her time at Fulton Street as a meaningful part of those dreams, dreams that go beyond bright lights and applause. “My personal mission is to leave something good; I love to impact lives. When I walk away, I want people to be marked by me. I just love helping them. I’m getting insanely great practice here. I’ve never had a job that gave me this much in so little time.”
Rocky is also an anchor of Fulton Street’s growing local catering business, one of the first Team Members entrusted with representing the famous Chick-fil-A brand of hospitality and great food in the marketplaces of lower Manhattan.
It’s a part of her job she delights in, meeting people in the offices, and sharing their first-time Chick-fil-A experiences. “I ask the new guests to eat the sandwich in front of me, I love watching them become happy when they eat our food.”
What do you want people to walk away with when they hear your story?
“They don’t have to walk away inspired, but there’s no point that you can’t recover from. It’s in you, you can do it, maybe a little bit of ‘if she can…I can…’”
As she continues to look less and less like that timid school girl, she more and more resembles the Rocky that could one day own the world. “I’m learning to believe in myself, take pride in myself, taking myself for who I am, but still being open to improvements. Having confidence changes your life. You can pick yourself up after being tattered and not find your fight. I found my fight.”
“Finding your fight means you can have so many avenues. There’s so many options here at Chick-fil-A, like paying for college. It’s so much bigger than chicken.”