Kilpatrick Townsend’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Pens Open Letter To OK Cafe Owner

Yendelela Neely Holston writes, 'I hope that anyone reading this letter—who has asked themselves what they can do, how they can transform outrage to action, how they can move from emotion to progress—will join me in refusing to patronize OK Café, Blue Ridge Grill, and Bones.'

Yendelela Neely Holston, an attorney and the chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kilpatrick Townsend, penned an open letter responding to OK Cafe Owner Susan DeRose’s stance on Black Lives Matter (BLM).

Sign up now to get our Daily Breaking News Alerts

Opt out at anytime

What Now Atlanta (WNA) last week published comments from DeRose in which the restauranteur explained her position on the movement and defended a banner at the long-standing Buckhead diner that stated, “Lives That Matter Are Made With Positive Purpose.”

DeRose hung the banner at OK Cafe as BLM organizers were leading protests worldwide to shed light on police brutality and systemic racism.

The banner along with a Georgia flag adorning the Confederate battle emblem have since come down at OK Cafe.

“[DeRose’s] comments were troubling, and thus far have gone unaddressed,” Holston Wednesday told WNA in an email.

“I would like to change that with an open letter response.”

Dear Susan DeRose,

I have read (and re-read) your June 9, 2020 justification for your “Lives that Matter are Made with Positive Purpose” banner and it is not OK.

Contrary to your assertion, your words are not “words of peace.” They are words of oppression. As you admit, your words were in direct response and intended to be a message to “a [Black Lives Matter] protest march that passed by the restaurant.” Your sign about lives of purpose posted in response to a peaceful march was intended to (and did) directly communicate that the lives of those protesting were not lives of purpose. Your banner further communicated that Blacks lives—in and of themselves—are not lives of purpose, but that they must earn validation. Having read your statements, it’s clear that you have tried to clean up those assertions by maintaining that your sign and “tea party” were about protecting and defending small businesses, but if you really wanted to communicate a plea to save all small businesses, a sign that read the following would have been appropriate: “Dismantle racist systems, not small businesses.” You communicated exactly what you meant to communicate.

OK Café is not a mere restaurant in Atlanta, but an established institution. Every day, students—our most impressionable minds—eat there. Countless business breakfast and brunch meetings occur there and its sister restaurants: Bones and Blue Ridge Grill. In fact, I have had multiple business meetings at these restaurants myself. When local institutions such as OK Café vehemently oppose the current effort to finally provide long-sought racial equality, it moves us further away from a country that provides “liberty and justice for all.” To paraphrase, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. To intentionally try to antagonize a peaceful march—the purpose of which was to seek justice—shows that you do not want peace, you want the status quo. And that Ms. DeRose, is simply not acceptable.

Furthermore, you deride anyone who was offended by your sign, stating that they need “an education in this country.” It is not those offended by your sign that need an education, it is you who needs the education. So here you go from an educated (Furman University magna cum laude graduate and Duke University School of Law cum laude graduate) Black woman: A MAN WAS KILLED! George Floyd was killed by the very institution and people whose job it is to protect and serve us. Mr. Floyd was killed in broad daylight. He was killed on camera! And he was not the first Black person to be killed in this manner, and, unfortunately, he isn’t the last. Police departments are just one of the many systems in this country designed to work for you and oppress me. The protests, with which you take so much issue, are in response to the repeated messages in this country that Black lives are meaningless. That Black people do not inherently matter; so much so that police officers and vigilante citizens execute them in broad daylight, on camera because they have no fear of consequence and no belief that their actions are wrong.

The murder of George Floyd was the last straw of a series of inexcusable and excessive uses of deadly force against Black people. It was the tipping point in a deep-rooted history of injustice to which you have been witness, yet to which you have chosen to be silent. Yes, looting is wrong, but you did not hang your sign in response to looting. Admittedly, you erected it so that “it would be on display” for a peaceful march that was passing by.

Moreover, looting is a symptom of the problem. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. aptly observed, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” We are tired of people not hearing (or in your case completely disregarding) our cries of humanity. You and others like you (and by this I do not mean all white people, I mean people who continue to defend and reinforce the systemic racism plaguing our country) are clear that property—buildings that can be rebuilt—is more valuable than a Black life—that can never be replaced. That is why we must continuously remind you that we are people, too! Our lives matter, too. If our country treated everyone as if their lives as mattered, Ms. DeRose, there would be no need for the constant reminders that the lives of Black people have value too.

But not only are you “offended” by our reminders that our “Black Lives Matter,” you query why we are not “grateful.” The crux of your letter is that Black people should be thankful and should give a “shoutout to America” for the crumbs that we have received while white society, as a collective, continues to eat cake. This is so asinine at its core that to respond to you would only make me look foolish. So rather than respond to this or the numerous other tangents, red herrings, and rabbit holes (1) in your often incoherent ramblings, I will end where I started: Your words are not OK. Your words are not “words of peace.” Your words perpetuate oppression, division and inequality.

The only thing in your article that was remotely worthwhile was the following statement: “So, I don’t believe what they believe, and if they don’t like that, don’t come into my restaurant. That’s what capitalism is all about.” You are right; that is exactly what capitalism is about. And to that end, you will never see another penny from me. I hope that anyone reading this letter—who has asked themselves what they can do, how they can transform outrage to action, how they can move from emotion to progress—will join me in refusing to patronize OK Café, Blue Ridge Grill, and Bones. Because what everyday people can do to effect change is to refuse to spend money with or otherwise show support for the systems, institutions and, yes, even people that perpetuate racial inequality. Ms. DeRose, thank you for the invitation to start with you and the Liberty Restaurant Group.


Yendelela Neely

(1) The primary rabbit hole down which you lead us pertains to a t-shirt worn by Killer Mike. As they say in South Carolina, where I was raised: “a hit dog will holler.” Meaning you do not take offense to things that you do not feel are directed to you. Your extreme offense at the words on Killer Mike’s shirt show that you are well aware of your place of social superiority in America’s race caste system and that you understand it was designed to keep you there as a metaphorical “master.” Your “outrage” at Killer Mike’s shirt is concerning, but what is even more troubling is your complete lack of outrage at the systemic racism in this Country.

Caleb J. Spivak

Caleb J. Spivak

Caleb J. Spivak

Caleb J. Spivak

35 Responses

  1. This just escalated. I am going to guess that anything Ms. DeRose says to respond is bound to dig the whole a little deeper.

  2. What a well written letter. I can’t imagine keeping my cool while writing it, so kudos to you Miss Neely.

  3. Well said! Thank you for writing this letter. I have never eaten at any of those establishments and certainly never will. Black Lives Matter!

  4. I have enjoyed many meals at all three of these restaurants. However, no more. While I do feel bad for the innocent employees, many of whom have worked at these restaurants for decades, I cannot financially support Ms. DeRose and presumably her partner who has not said a word. His silence, to me, is deafening. If you disagree, speak your mind. Clearly he doesn’t disagree. I wish the employees well. I hope those that disagree with Mr. DeRose’s views proactively find employment elsewhere. Sadly, these restaurants will likely get a boost in business from the “All Lives Matter” crowd. Anyone see how busy OK Cafe is on a Sunday after that monster sized church lets out? They’ll still be going there. And as for the pricey BRG & Bones – the old money of Buckhead will still dine there. So to me, the best way for Ms DeRose to suffer financially is for her best employees to leave. Hopefully that will happen.

  5. Attorney Holston,
    I must admit, your response to the owners of OK Cafe caused me to exhale a bit while sipping my coffee this morning. I too have had business meetings at OK due to their convenient location. While not my style (setting/menu selections), I would always let clients select. I’m not a native of Atlanta so I did not know the history of OK until I mentioned it to a friend who is. She was shocked and admonished me to “Never go there! They have a history of insensitivity to our feelings and refuse to remove……the flag.” I never stepped foot in there again and that was 3 years ago.
    Here’s why your letter soothed the smoldering hurt and anger I’ve felt over the last couple of weeks. As a Black mother, my two sons shared a few conversations they’ve had to address from their co-workers. They are both in business and “pricey” business/golf outings and “spare no expense” business dinners remain largely a component of creating and growing business relationships. The advice I gave them in addressing “what can I do” type inquiries, is exactly what you expressed here. We affect change with our dollars. Period.
    Thank you much for making my morning!

  6. So MLK said rioting if the language of the unheard. I guess this so called educated lawyer thinks that looting and rioting are the same thing. She has in my eyes just reduced herself to an enabler of lawless thugs. I am happy to hear that she endores theft.
    Now we all need to make sure that the firm she works for is boycotted.

      1. No Patrick I even out in the quote. She used the quote, “MLK said that rioting was the language of the unheard.” To use that quote from MLK as she justified the looting is a clear endorsement of such actions. Heck the Phipps mall Gucci looting was a well planned operation by gangs. Nothing else.
        Looting has nothing to do with police shootings and is NEVER justifiable. Even for a “educated lawyer.’
        You may twist it however you wish Patrick but doing so is just an endorsement for that from you also.

  7. Suzie D, hope you learned something from this. This was not a good business decision.
    YNH, your 15 minutes of fame has timed-out. Please tell Kilpatrick and Townsend that their site is a joke.
    Boycott OK Cafe, or not, this is exactly how you make change– through $$$.

  8. Only 4 of the 249 partners at Kilpatrick Townsend are Black. That’s only 1.6% when 5% of attorneys in the US are Black. As the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Ms. Neely Holston is failing miserably at her job. Perhaps it’s because she wastes her time writing rambling nonsensical rants about small businesses which draws negative attention to her firm.

  9. Articles that drive comments. The ghost of Mr. Spivak, please don’t follow their formula. I have read your blog for many years and have always enjoyed the straight-up-reporting.

    1. ‘WE’ doesn’t speak for me.
      I won’t be boycotting anybody over this situation.
      I’ve got a lawyer, and I’m certainly not driving to Buckhead to eat at some diner. And I’m definitely not gonna say I’m boycotting a business that I’ll never patronize anyway.
      My roofer, and my longtime insurance broker, both voted for Trump (ugh).
      They’re both personable, and great at their job– I don’t hold their political views against them, and they don’t judge me on mine.
      Maybe we should just try and accept each other’s differences.

  10. Susan DeRose is all about Susan DeRose. As a former employee, I know she treats employees like crap. She was a stewardess who met her partner, Richard Lewis, while working a flight. His restaurant Bone’s was doing great, and his money paid for OK Cafe and the house they live(d) in on West Paces Ferry Road. Without Richard, who knows where she’d be today.
    As for boycotting OK Cafe, I’ve been doing that forever.

    1. You sound bitter.
      And it’s flight attendant, not stewardess (microagression).
      Who cares who paid for what.

  11. “Police departments DESIGNED to oppress me”
    Fancy college degrees but still an idiot, if not a liar.

  12. Well said! My family, business associates and I have been loyal OK customers for over 30 years…
    Thank you to this owner who helped me make a very conscious decision…. to go somewhere else!!!!! Black Lives Matter and so does our money!

  13. People who judge people they don’t know, like Ms. Neely does, causes me to go eat there tomorrow if I could. It’s an “agree with me or I’ll destroy you” mentality that is ruining and dividing our country even more.

    1. Division is what this country has become all about. On all sides of the political spectrum, from Trump to this Magna Cum Laude Lawyer who thinks she is right and those who disagree are wrong. Perhaps soon we can be the Divided States of America as the very vocal minority is angling for and then carry on from there. Unity is dead and hate sells way more than love.

  14. I am so interested in examining a response from Ms. DeRose assuming there will be one. Mrs. Yendelela Neely Holston presents the issues in such a clear fashion that is impossible not to understand them. Oh how I wish understanding was enough to effect the change the country needs.

  15. So if a boycott happens…who will employ those that become unemployed…..think before you speak to a boycott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts