LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — A Black family says racism prompted officials at a suburban Kansas City water park to cancel a private pool party for their 17-year-old son's birthday during the weekend.
Chris Evans said he signed a contract with Summit Waves Aquatic Facility in Lee's Summit to host 250 people for the party on Saturday. But when his sons arrived at the park they were told the reservation was canceled and were not given a reason, Evans said at a news conference Tuesday.
Evans said he and his wife learned while they were on the way to the water park that “this event doesn’t represent Lee’s Summit Waves and that my reservation was canceled because (a park official) was uncomfortable," The Kansas City Star reported.
That official, flanked by police officers, met the parents when they arrived and reiterated that the party would not be held.
“What are you scared of, Lee’s Summit?” Evans asked at the news conference. “Why are you uncomfortable?”
Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation Department, which operates the water park, said in a statement issued Tuesday that it apologized to the Evans family because of miscommunication and missed processes that led to the cancellation.
The statement said its investigation found the department failed to arrange additional security for the party, which Evans paid for as part of his contract. Parks officials said the event was promoted on social media although the contract said that would not happen.
After several unsuccessful efforts to reach the Evans, the department decided to cancel the party, according to the statement.
“Safety pertaining to the anticipated crowd size and the potential impact it might have on party guests and the staff was the sole reason for the cancellation,” the statement said.
Park department officials said up to 500 people showed up in the parking lot for the party but Evans countered the event was canceled before the teenagers arrived and there was “never anything close to 500 kids in the parking lot.”
“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.”
Lee’s Summit Mayor William Baird on Tuesday criticized the department's handling of the incident and denounced "appalling” statements he said a park employee made on social media after the incident.
“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 parks department's statement on Tuesday said its administrator apologized to the Evans family for “the inappropriate and insensitive language” used by staff and said appropriate actions would be taken.
The department said it would review its rental processes, including communication, and improve training to align with the city's diversity and inclusion efforts.