At exactly noon on Monday, 16-year-old Bria Bradshaw and her mother Charmaine walked into Tommy Pak's Kwik Stop in South Dallas, then stopped short. There was a horde of men and women in the convenience store, black and Korean, and most were in suits. There were video cameras set up toward the back, by the beer fridges, and photographers were on one knee, furiously clicking away.
"Surprise!" everyone yelled.
Bria still didn't know what was going on. Then, someone procured the money: three large checks equaling $13,500 that would go toward her college tuition when she graduates from Hillcrest High School next year. That's when Charmaine started to cry.
"Bria had no clue," Mickey Wright said, beaming and hugging everyone. "She had no clue."
Her largest benefactor, a new coalition between the Justice Seekers and Korean Society in Dallas called the Global Unified Educational Scholarship Society, named the scholarship the Bria Bradshaw Scholarship and contributed $10,000. It'll go to students in the Dallas community who, like Bria, never, ever missed a day of school.
If you've been keeping up with the Kwik Stop saga lately, you'll know that it took awhile to get to Korean and black community leaders making nice and giving back to the community. Many of these same black leaders, like Reverend Ronald Wright and his brother Mickey, were protesting the store five months ago, when they caught wind of a story peddled by Nation of Islam Student Minister Jeffery Muhammad that Pak was gunning down black men and disrespecting black women in South Dallas. The story sparked months of racial tension, and even after it was debunked, the two sides found it difficult to come to terms. Just a month and a half ago, the Wright brothers, Curtis Wilbert, Marion Barnett, Ted Kim, Chong Choe, Charles Park and others attempted to give Bradshaw a scholarship, but a similar surprise presentation was abandoned at the last moment after squabbles about who owed how much money.
When asked about the holdup at Monday's scholarship unveiling, Mickey Wright smiled even wider and said simply, "It takes time."
Kim, the Korean Society vice president, spoke to the cameras, saying, "Korean leaders are working in partnership with black leaders. We will be able to build bridges between our communities."
Bria Bradshaw is famous in her own right. Legend has it that in the fourth grade, someone from Dallas ISD promised her a $25,000 if she never missed a day of school. Later, DISD said they had never promised her anything, that this secretive pact never happened. She was out of luck.
Still, never missing a day of school is tougher than getting all As, because even if you're really smart, school can still be a thoroughly distasteful place. But Charmaine enforced perfect attendance since Bria was 4 in pre-kindergarten. Charmaine, one of 12 children, almost had perfect attendance herself.
"It was something that I wanted to do," she said. "I missed it by three days. I caught the chicken pox my senior year. I wore long sleeves to hide them, but some were showing on my neck and in my face. As soon as I walked in, the principal sent me home."
The scholarship felt more ceremonial than anything else, as both communities attempt to turn a new leaf and move forward together after months -- and more accurately, decades -- of distrust and hatred.
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Meanwhile, Nation of Islam members still picket the store "about once a week," according to Pak. Business is slowly picking up, though it still isn't quite as profitable as before the protests. Soon, one employee said, the temperature will consistently rise to 100, then 110, and being outside at all will be more trouble than it's worth.
But yesterday, the protesters weren't out there, and all eyes were on Bria Bradshaw, the black girl with the silver braces and cherubic cheeks and perfect attendance who was soaking in all the love from old men and women she's never seen before.
"I'm really grateful," she said. "I do want to give back to the community, because of what they've given me."
But first: "I haven't eaten Korean food yet," she admitted. Then, diplomatically, she quickly added, "I want to."