‘It Made Me Feel So Unwelcome’

At 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon, six friends stood in a parking lot across from a Sonic Drive-In where, they said, they had been singled out a week before because of the color of their skin.

By 4 p.m., cars began arriving for a drive-by rally of support for the teens.

Within an hour, a steady, relentless line of cars had snaked up Forest Lane, down Inwood, into the Sonic parking lot, and then the Anderson parking lot at Jesuit Preparatory School of Dallas. There the rising seniors and their families stood in the shade to wave at their well-wishers.

For Evan Brown and five friends, all Black, it served as a balm after feeling so unwelcome the week before at the Sonic where they were regulars and had placed orders before getting out of their cars.

“We were away from the middle section, so we wouldn’t be in traffic or anything, and there was an employee who came out, and he told us that if we didn’t get back in our cars that he would be forced to call the cops,” he said.

“We didn’t cause a disturbance, and there was no need to bring up police involvement.”

Evan Brown

That wording, the teens said, hit particularly hard just days after George Floyd’s death. Four Minneapolis police officers have been arrested and charged in the death.

“We didn’t cause a disturbance, and there was no need to bring up police involvement,” Evan said. “It made me feel so unwelcome.”

Evan’s mother, Kimberly-Clarke deputy general counsel Shonn Brown, sprang into action when she found out.

“I went to Sonic. By myself. At night. And to my dismay, there were two groups of all White children who were gathered in the Sonic parking lot. Outside their cars,” she wrote on Facebook, adding that she confronted employees and asked if they planned on reiterating their policy to those teens as well.

Brown said that the person at the window confirmed the policy, and agreed, at her request, to tell the White teens as well. She said she waited, watching as one group even stood under an order stall without having a car. An employee finally came out to explain the store policy, but never once, threatened them with calling police, Brown said.

“In our situation, we’re really fortunate that we have parents who can do something like this,” one teen, MJ Ward, said.

They met with Sonic corporate staffers to talk about changes they wanted to see from the chain, teen Elle Grinnell said. “Then they wrote out the statement.”

Sonic’s statement, available at peoplenewspapers. com, says the issue was “handled inappropriately and did not live up to our standards.”

The corporation said it would revise its policies regarding who approaches guests and would ensure employees took unconscious bias training.

The teens are still on the fence about whether they’ll go back to what was a favorite hangout, Evan said. “I’m willing to go back if I can see there is change.”

For nearly 40 years, People Newspapers has worked tirelessly to tell the stories—good, bad, and sublime—of our neighbors in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. To support our efforts, please contact advertise@peoplenewspapers.com for advertising opportunities. Please also consider sharing this story with your friends and social media followers.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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