At the end of last year, I was selected to be one of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Anniversary Ambassadors. This meant I would be among some of the first to know what was happening at the Farm, write for the Knott’s Berry Blog, in addition to covering their various happenings here on my own blog, in exchange would receive a complimentary season pass for myself and Patrick. I was elated! 2020 was slated to be a banner year as it marks the 100th anniversary of the Farm, and I was going to be able to a part of it all. If you’re new to the blog, know I have absolutely adored visiting Knott’s Berry Farm over the last four years. It has become one of my happy places, I’ve made so many friends there. It is a true icon of California, with a unique history. But last week things came crashing to an end.
Following the death of George Floyd there was a massive push by the Black Lives Matter group, with protests that have continued for weeks. In addition to the physical marches, many woke up to the realization that America has had another pandemic brewing, that of racism. In the wake of this, various brands, companies, museums, and more chose to issue solidarity statements, some of which were combined with promises of reflection, change within their own company, and financial donations to Black organizations.
The Walt Disney Company issued a statement. Universal Studios issued a statement. I waited for Knott’s Berry Farm to make a statement, but sadly they continued to post as if we didn’t have Civil Rights Movement Vol. 2 on our hands. I decided to turn to the Facebook group that had been set up for the ambassadors and ask, but, to my pleasant surprise, another ambassador had already asked. There was a response from a member of KBF’s marketing team, saying they were taking corporate’s lead, (this means Cedar Fair) who had not made a statement. As some may know, Knott’s is not independent. In 1997, facing stiff competition from other Southern California amusement parks, the Knott family sold their beloved farm-turned-theme park to Cedar Fair, meaning that on some levels, including this issue, they are not completely autonomous. The member of the marketing team continued, saying that Knott’s stands against racism and that they stand with their Black employees and guests. In the wake of other companies continuing to issue public statements, I said that private statements, while nice, are not enough.
Soon I had a video chat with a member of the marketing team and the other ambassador who had also expressed concern regarding the lack of a public statement. During this conversation, I was told making a solidarity statement was not a matter of “if” but a matter of “how” due to the financial stresses that had been put on Knott’s and Cedar Fair due to COVID-19. The marketing member told me they felt that a statement without a financial aspect would appear hollow. I attempted to argue it wasn’t, and that there were other options. The other ambassador and myself explained we were receiving questions from our friends and followers regarding the lack of statement from Knott’s, and when we asked what we should tell them, we were told we could privately provide those asking with KBF’s Public Relations e-mail address for them to express their concern, and that these e-mails were being forwarded to Cedar Fair directly. We were instructed not to publicly release the e-mail address on our platforms. No never mind that the e-mail is publicly available on KBF’s website.
On Black Out Tuesday, Knott’s Berry Farm changed their Facebook profile picture to their logo script in white over a black background as an act of solidarity. This change, which lasted only 24 hours, was not accompanied by any sort of statement. I had friends tell me they were unaware of this move, and also said it was not enough. Additionally, in scrolling through the comments, the meaning was lost on most. Few recognized the meaning behind the image, and sadly, with one woman used the “LOL” reaction response to anyone who commented saying they understood what it meant. Ultimately this move was unclear to the public at large.
After communication with friends, a month of back and fourth with Knott’s, in which I provided perspectives from friends on a statement without donating is acceptable especially considering the COVID-19 situation, research from a Harvard Business Review article discussing the vital importance of public statements, statements issued from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Peanuts Worldwide, the NFL coming around, NASCAR even issuing a statement, the tune changed. Last Monday, June 29, I was informed that they were now unsure if a statement was going to be made at all, and that the focus was on keeping the business afloat. I was given the ultimatum that if I could not promote the company in a positive light, it would be best for me to leave the ambassador program, and to provide my answer by the end of the day. And so, I did. I sent my resignation e-mail in the early evening, and by the late evening, before receiving any sort of response (to which I still haven’t), I went to Facebook to visit the ambassador page to pen a goodbye post, only to see I had already been removed from the group.
I gave consideration to staying on, focusing on the positive and the diversity I was aware of, and work to hold them accountable, thinking I could do more from the inside. But I wasn’t feeling listened to, and the fact there was a total 180 on issuing a statement is what really made me leave. Ultimately, I believe it is important that companies use their platform at this critical time in our nation’s history.
Our actions should reflect our morals. We cannot always do that 100 percent of the time, but I cannot actively participate within and promote a company that does not see the issue of racism as a matter of urgency, and that does not see the value in taking a public stance against racism. Especially when small businesses who have also been hit hard by COVID-19, are taking a stand and donating a portion of their sales.
I do believe Knott’s Berry Farm does do good things within their company. There are Native American dancers who use their platform at the Farm to continue their culture, and share the stories of their ancestors, not shying away from the darker sides, and they have had interracial couples in their entertainment offerings. Additionally, Knott’s is not just a theme park, but it is also a place of learning. Knott’s works with local schools to showcase the history of the American west, as they have elements of living history. Not to mention how many amazing people I met and friends I made there. While these are certainly positives, there is certain and obvious room for improvement, and I hope change for the better does happen, and that maybe they will come around with a statement, and when they do I can think about returning as a guest.
In the Jim Crow era it was perfectly legal for businesses to deny service to Black people or only offer services in a segregated environment. Businesses wanting to do the right thing were integrated. Those who study history often ask ourselves what would we have done if we had lived during crucial moments such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. If given the option between two similar establishments, one segregated, and one integrated, which one would you choose? Today we have a similar situation. Businesses have every right to not make a statement of solidarity, and they have every right to make a statement, and use their business as a platform to reflect their values and to stand with what is right. When given the option of two similar businesses, one that has made a statement and one that has not, which one would you choose? I choose the one that has. I strongly believe that it is vital for businesses to use their platforms, to take a stand on the right side of history.