As students bustle through the University of Miami food court, ordering Canes chops, calling out to their friends, discussing weekend plans, one voice rings out above the rest.
“Have a nice day, my babycakes!”
Johnnie Mae Dawson, a cashier at Mango and Manny’s, the food court vendor specializing in Caribbean cuisine and chop chops, has been making hungry students smile for the past 15 years. As students hand Dawson their cash, Cane Cards and credit cards, she doesn’t hesitate to call them any variation of “pookie,” “sweetheart,” “mama” and most notably, “babycakes.”
“I love greeting you all, my babycakes,” Dawson said. “I love being able to say ‘Okay my babies, come on through.’”
Students have come to know her as “Babycakes” and many order food from Mango and Manny’s just to hear her friendly voice. Upon hearing the word babycakes, recent UM graduate Steven Rico immediately turned around in excitement.
“Oh my god, I love Babycakes!” Rico said. “She makes you want to be sweeter.”
Dawson, a Georgia native, has lived in Miami since 1958. In 1995, Dawson started working with UM’s Chartwells.
“All the students here have such amazing personalities, and we have a friendly staff that cares about one another,” Dawson said.
At UM, she’s also able to work by her only daughter Monique who works the cash register at Wendy’s right next door. Monique doesn’t mind working in the same place as her mother. In fact, she takes advantage of the fact that she can see her on a daily basis.
As an only child, Monique is used to her mother’s sweet demeanor. She recognizes that Dawson’s goal is to put a smile on the face of every person that walks by.
“She’s been like that her whole life. It’s all I know,” Monique said. “She gives her life to everybody and tries to treat every student as they’re her own child.”
According to Monique, her mother’s personality has rubbed off on her. As people go by Wendy’s, she can’t help but call everybody “sweetie.”
“It’s just me and my mom’s personality,” Monique said. “It’s something that’s within us.”
Aside from serving the students that she loves, Dawson lives for her daughter, her three grandchildren, Kamron, Kamari and Kamaya, and the church.
“Church is my favorite place to go,” Dawson said. “I love the church.”
Senior Danny Parra, a broadcast journalism and Latin American studies major who profiled Dawson for a UMTV Newsvision report, followed Dawson and her family to her church in Coconut Grove. According to Parra, Dawson’s faith is what makes her so compassionate.
“She really believes that there’s a plan and that no matter how bad things are, they can get better and will get better,” Parra said. “Even though she doesn’t know you she’ll do anything she can to help you.”
Dawson relishes the opportunity to cheer up her customers. She uses babycakes as a way to connect with students and make their days more lively.
“I can just say, ‘What’s the matter my babycakes?’ and it makes their days better,” Dawson said. “I’m here to help them uplift themselves.”
Alexandra Leon may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.