If you saw Spencer Sleyon and Rosalind “Roz” Guttman walking down the street together, you probably wouldn't assume they're BFFs.
Make no mistake, however. Sleyon, a 22-year-old rapper who lives in Harlem, and Guttman, an 81-year-old who lives in Florida, really are two peas in a pod.
And on Dec. 1, they finally got to meet in person.
Photos by Amy Butler, with permission.
Their unlikely friendship started in the summer of 2016.
Sleyon and Guttman met while facing off on Words with Friends, a Scrabble-like game people can play on their phones against strangers near and far. They both enjoyed playing one another, Sleyon explains, so it was only a matter of time before they were both knocking out several rounds every day.
Because the game is connected through Facebook, both Sleyon and Guttman knew who they were competing against and soon began chatting online. Before long, the conversation turned from the game to things happening in the real world.
“2016 was such a big year for politics and hurricanes — stuff like that," Sleyon says of the types of topics they'd discuss, noting he'd also chat with her about his music. "We talked about literally just anything.”
When Sleyon got particularly busy last year, however, he had to get rid of the app.
“I told her, 'my life is pretty busy right now, I don’t have time to play every day consistently,'" Sleyon says of saying goodbye. "'But if there was some advice you could give me about life, what would it be?' And she told me, 'Always reach for the stars.'”
The inspiring message stuck with him.
Months later, he decided to download the app again, after life got a little less hectic. It was then that his friend's mom, Amy Butler — senior minister at NYC's Riverside Church — learned about Sleyon's interstate friendship.
“I was telling Pastor Amy [about Guttman], and she couldn’t believe it," Sleyon says. "She wanted to write a sermon on it.”
A few weeks after that, Butler surprised Sleyon with a trip to Florida to finally meet Guttman in person.
And, as the pics show, their meeting did not disappoint.
“She was awesome," Sleyon says of finally getting to meet Guttman. "I’ve worked in grocery stores and stuff, so I’ve been friendly with older people in person. And that ’s honestly what it felt like — like I just saw someone from the neighborhood. That’s why I was really happy.”
“It ended up becoming a true friendship.”
After Sleyon tweeted about the experience, the internet went wild.
In just a few days, the photos of Guttman and Sleyon received over one million likes and over 230,000 retweets.
Even Frank Gibeau, the CEO of Zynga, the developer of Words with Friends, heard about Sleyon and Guttman's friendship: “Spencer and Roz’s story is a wonderful illustration of how powerful games can be in bringing people together across generations and geographies," he said in a statement.
The tweet's thread is filled with moving messages, too, reflecting how much seeing the photos and learning Sleyon's story has meant to so many people.
"This is the kinda thing I wanna see in America," one user wrote. "Not the negative stuff that’s talked about on a daily basis."
Sleyon's not exactly sure why the photos have spread so far and wide, but he believes seeing people from very different walks of life befriending one another has something to do with it.
“The state our country is in right now — there’s a huge racial divide," he explains. "I saw a lot of people saying they needed a story like this."
For now, he's just grateful his story is putting smiles on faces.