‘What are you scared of, Lee’s Summit?’ Family says water park discriminated against them

·6 min read

The father of two Black teenage sons said they were racially profiled and discriminated against when a Lee’s Summit water park canceled a birthday party at the last minute this past weekend.

Family members and their attorneys spoke publicly Tuesday about what happened when Summit Waves canceled their son’s 17th birthday party citing fears that the party had attracted too many people.

“What are you scared of, Lee’s Summit?” asked Chris Evans, who had organized the event that was to take place Saturday. “Why are you uncomfortable?”

The water park denied a group of Black teenagers entry into the water park “for no apparent reason than the color of their skin,” Evans said.

Evans had made arrangements on July 8, he said, to reserve the Summit Waves Aquatic Facility for the party on Saturday. They signed a contract to have 250 guests for $1,900. For $200 more, they could have had up to 1,400 people, Evans said.

He said when his sons arrived, they were told the reservation was canceled. No reason was given, he said.

Isaiah Evens, 17, left, and 15-year-old Noah Evans appeared at a news conference with their family Tuesday. Their family said when the teens showed up at Summit Waves water park Saturday for the older brother’s birthday party, they were told the reservation had been canceled, with no reason given.
Isaiah Evens, 17, left, and 15-year-old Noah Evans appeared at a news conference with their family Tuesday. Their family said when the teens showed up at Summit Waves water park Saturday for the older brother’s birthday party, they were told the reservation had been canceled, with no reason given.

While Evans and his wife were on the way to the water park, he said, they were told “this event doesn’t represent Lee’s Summit Waves and that my reservation was canceled because she was uncomfortable.”

When he and his wife arrived, they were met by Summit Waves employees who were flanked by police officers, he said. A Summit Waves staff member again denied them access to the water park.

On Monday, city officials defended the decision to cancel the party, saying that about 500 teenagers — roughly twice the number planned — showed up for the event at the water park, which is run by the city’s Parks and Recreation division.

Parks officials became aware of social media posts advertising the event that “raised serious concerns about the safety of party guests,” the city said.

In what has become a widely-seen post on the social media platform TikTok, Evans was seen speaking with a park official as a Lee’s Summit police officer stood by. In the video, Evans asks the park official why the event was canceled and why the park would be “uncomfortable” hosting.

“Because we’re Black,” one person can be heard saying in response.

@kansascitydiscover Kansas City youth denied access to summit waves a water park in Lee Summit, Missouri due to their skin color. Yesterday a youth age private party was canceled on his birthday because summit waves owner said she “ didn’t feel comfortable “. She proceeded and told the group “ that they didn’t represent summit waves”. She told the group that she’d refund them their money and proceeded to shut the pool down. However guards have been caught making racist slurs on Snapchat towards the group since being outed.#racism #sadstory ♬ original sound - KC Discover

Mayor criticizes water park’s cancellation of party

Lee’s Summit Mayor William Baird on Tuesday criticized the water park for canceling the party and denounced comments made by staff afterwards.

In a public statement, Baird urged the city’s Park and Recreation department to “re-evaluate their approach.” He said an investigation into the incident was underway.

Certain processes should have been done to address any safety concerns and patrons should be treated with dignity and respect, he said.

“We must intentionally embrace a culture that is welcoming and inclusive, and we must continually denounce any urge or impulse to exclude,” he said.

“The comments were appalling and not condoned by Parks and Recreation, and are inconsistent with the culture I know the City of Lee’s Summit strives to reflect.”

During the news conference with his attorneys, Evans refuted some of the information in the parks and recreation department’s news release.

“I feel it is important to correct several inaccuracies in that press release and to shed light on the incident so it does not happen again,” he said.

The event was canceled well before the teens began arriving and there was “never anything close to 500 kids in the parking lot,” Evans said. The park was sold out on Saturday, which meant there were up to 600 people already inside the park, he added.

“How did you count 500?” he asked. “How did you distinguish the guests intermixing?”

Police officers on site did not share the concern that the event would grow beyond the capacity of staff, Evans said. He added that they also hired off-duty police officers or security officers to provide additional security.

“My kids were heartbroken that the party was canceled,” he said. “They are good kids who make good grades, have bright futures and do not deserve to be treated like this. And that goes for all the kids at the park that day.”

Evans and his wife stayed in the parking lot until every teen was given a ride home. He said his family is saddened and deeply hurt by the discriminatory conduct that still exists in the community.

“We believe that racial prejudice in our society should be identified and called out so that it might reduce the chance of repeat occurrences,” he said.

Evans said he is hopeful that Lee’s Summit will put training in place to prevent such injustices from happening again to other Black, brown and LGBTQ families.

‘My family needs to be okay’

During the news conference, Evans stressed that three things need to happen going forward — the first being the community as a whole needs to feel like they get a victory from this.

It can’t be an incident where one person wins and another loses. Rather it needs to be where the community comes together and says Lee’s Summit, and Kansas City, is going to be a better place because of this incident, he said.

The city of Lee’s Summit also needs to change its hiring, training and developing of employees. Evans said the comments made by a lifeguard show how deeply rooted the problem is. He hoped repercussions would include counseling and support, especially for the lifeguard.

The third item is his family, Evans said.

“My kids came in a giving spirit,” Evans said. “They wanted to host 250 teenagers to have a good time before they go back to school.”

His son Isaiah has been working very hard on college applications and studying for the ACT. Evans wondered how the weight of this would affect his son in those efforts.

Evans also wondered how his wife will be okay with her children leaving the house when there’s “this much anger and frustration and you’re uncomfortable with us being there?”

“My family has to be okay,” Evans said. “Other Black families have to be okay.”