Shopping while black at Jenkinson’s? Paterson girls kicked out
POINT PLEASANT BEACH — The leader of a Paterson mentoring program says seven of her girls were told they "not welcome" at the gift shop to the Jenkinson's Aquarium — and she believes racial animus is to blame.
UPDATE: Tuesday: After internal investigation, Jenkinson's fires employee Original story follows below.
Attiyya Barrett — organizer of the Princess to Queenz mentoring program, which partners with Paterson to provide a summer camp program after the school year ends — said she took a group of about 40 girls and 10 chaperones to the Shore Friday. For many of the girls, ages 6 to 14, it would be a first trip to the Jenkinson's Aquarium, on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk.
The visit to the aquarium and lunch went without incident, she said. But when seven of the girls entered the gift shop, she said, a woman Barrett knew only as "Linda" told them they couldn't come in without a chaperone, Barrett said. That group ranged in age from 7 to 14, she said.
The group returned to the aquarium and got a chaperone — a 32-year-old woman, Barrett said. But they were told again they weren't welcome, she said.
Barrett said she'd been inside the aquarium when she heard the commotion, and confronted Linda when she was told what had happened. She said she saw another employee take out a phone to video the incident, so she took hers out as well.
Barrett's video focuses on Linda, whom she identifies in a Facebook post as "the racist lady." Story continues after video.
"She doesn't want the children to shop in her store because they have to have be with a chaperone. They go get the chaperone and then she excludes all of our girls because she doesn't want them there. What was the reason why again," Barrett says in the video.
"Because they didn't have a chaperone," Linda responds.
"No! And when they got the chaperone what was your reason?" Barrett says
"I didn't think she was a chaperone," Linda says,
"And when she was explained why what did you say?" Barrett says. As Linda begins to answer, Barrett talks over her: "What did you just say?"
"They're not welcome in here," the cashier said.
"They're not welcome," Barrett repeats as the video ends.
She said though it wasn't captured on the video, Linda told her "You guys like to pull your phones out."
A call to the Aquarium was referred to Jenkinson's main office, which in turn referred any questions to its marketing manager, who had not yet returned a message as of early Sunday afternoon.
Barrett described Linda as the manager of the gift shop. New Jersey 101.5 was not able to independently confirm her role Sunday.
Barrett said after the video was recorded, she collected the girls from her camp and they left the gift shop. She said a Jenkinson's manager and security met her right after, and apologized.
"She said she had witnessed the exchange — I don't know why she didn't step in before — and she said upper management would be in contact," Barrett said.
Barrett said she spoke to other Jenkinson's managers later in the day, and was assured they'd look into the matter and get back in touch with her on Monday. She said they initially described the gift shop manager as an independent operation — but since a visitor to the aquarium has to walk through it to leave, and it sells Jenkinson's merchandise, she considers Jenkinson's responsible.
Barrett said she didn't assume at first the incident was racially motivated.
"There's a lot of stuff in there that's delicate, and she may not have wanted kids without a chaperone," Barrett said. "But when they came back with a chaperone, and her words were 'you are not welcome here,' that's what made it racially motivated in my mind."
Barrett said she's been talking to the girls and parents since the confrontation. Some were crying on the bus ride home, she said.
Barrett said she hopes to see Linda fired, and perhaps some sensitivity training put in place.
"Honestly, I'm leaving it under the direction of my girls," she said. "I want them to learn from this."
— Dan Alexander contributed to this report
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