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Musicians protest ‘systemic racism’ at Atlas restaurants in wake of Ouzo Bay incident

Jeremey Williams protests outside of Ouzo Bay a day after a viral video that showed a Black family being refused service by management. June 24, 2020
Jeremey Williams protests outside of Ouzo Bay a day after a viral video that showed a Black family being refused service by management. June 24, 2020 (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

A group of musicians, the majority of whom have performed at area Atlas Group restaurants, is protesting against “systemic racism” at the company, after a Black mother and her son were denied service prompting public backlash and protests.

“We perform music that arises from the black experience. We believe that black lives matter, and that Atlas has created spaces that systemically discriminate against communities of color,” wrote a group of 41 in a letter to the restaurant group Saturday. “At Atlas locations, this takes the form of racially coded dress codes, dining and dress rules that are selectively enforced, and contributing to gentrification,” they wrote.

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The group demands that the restaurant group drop its dress codes at all locations, create a system for all employees to report racist incidents without fear, and that it contributes financially to Black-owned businesses, community groups or nonprofits — such as the NAACP or Baltimore Ceasefire — to compensate for negative impacts of gentrification.

“There is no question that Atlas is a gentrifying institution,” the letter said. “This is a complex issue, but the indisputable fact is that the negative impact of gentrification overwhelmingly impacts communities of color and low income communities. Atlas must put its money where its mouth is if it cares about being a good neighbor and a member of the community.”

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Clarence Ward III, a saxaphone and trumpet player from Baltimore, and member of Dat Feel Good band, is among the musicians who signed the letter. Ward said as a Black man, he often felt unwelcome at some of the Atlas establishments. He said he played several shows at the Tagliata restaurant.

“The energy is sometimes not inviting. I didn’t feel welcome at times,” he said.

After the video circulated of Grant’s experience at Ouzo Bay, he said the petition began circulating among Black and white musicians, and he wanted to show support for change after his own experiences.

“Everything changes over time and now it’s Atlas’ time,” he said.

In response to the letter, Atlas management wrote to the musicians’ that the company is planning a “roundtable” event next week where “members of our leadership team could open a productive dialogue and listen to feedback from your group, with a view toward openly discussing and establishing a broader path forward for Atlas.”

The Atlas letter said it had not previously received complaints from performers expressing concerns of “racism, discrimination, or lack of inclusion. Bottom line, we can’t address or change what we don’t know about — we are always accessible and wanting to listen.”

Atlas staff did not respond to a request for additional comment Saturday.

The restaurant group has been the source of recent protests after a Black mother said her son was denied entry into Ouzo Bay restaurant. In a video, an employee from the restaurant told Marcia Grant that her 9-year-old son Dallas’ T-shirt, shorts and sneakers didn’t meet the restaurant’s dress code. But Grant noticed a white child wearing a similar outfit and demanded an explanation from the manager.

A week later, Atlas announced that it would no longer enforce a dress code at its two properties at the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East but that it would continue to asses the policy at its other venues.

“I want the opportunity to meet him. I want the opportunity to be a mentor to him,” Smith said. “I want the opportunity to apologize to [Dallas] and Marcia.” But the family has said the comments are not enough.

The musicians letter says the restaurant group must go further.

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“We do not believe them to be adequate, and we are not confident in their follow through, once the spotlight has faded. We hope to be wrong, and that Atlas will reform itself further to become a valuable member of the Baltimore community,” they said.

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