For restaurant owners and the community alike, 2020 has been a challenging year. Not only are we managing through a pandemic, our city continues to see social unrest. Two of our restaurants in west Philadelphia were damaged and vandalized when peaceful protests turned violent.
Our work as restaurant owners is to feed our community. But our mission is about more than serving meals. As African-Americans and business owners, we can help bring people together, improve lives, and strengthen neighborhoods. We were mindful—as we repaired our restaurants—how very important this mission is right now. We placed giant signs in our store windows that read “Black owned, Black lives matter, and Deeply rooted in the community.” We wanted to remind our neighbors that we are with them and we are here for you—most importantly—we are you.
We empathize with the high level of unemployment, with the frustration, but violence is not the answer. Instead, meaningful change depends on our ability to educate and listen to one another.
As a father and former high school educator, I know this needed education depends, in part, on helping our community understand how far we’ve come. In an attempt to showcase progress and continue my passion to educate, we have added Black community art galleries in several of our restaurants that depict the Civil Rights Movement, the evolution of hip hop and pivotal moments in African American history along with illustrations of Social Justice issues to help our customers understand the sacrifices that have been made in our march towards equal treatment. But the gallery walls aren’t yet full. We left room for works that will document our continuing evolution, room for our communities to continue progress towards equal justice.
Our family has been a part of the McDonald’s system for over 30 years, I bought my first McDonald’s restaurant in 1987 and have grown that to now own six restaurants. Before McDonald’s, I was a high school AP chemistry teacher and owned a real estate management company. I wanted to take both of those talents and build a family business I could be proud of. In keeping with the family legacy of economic empowerment, my daughter Danielle Dawkins-Alston joined me as a restaurant operator at the age of 28, being among the youngest approved African-American female franchise owners within the system. From the age of five, Danielle knew she wanted to be part of the family business, and that ketchup in her veins led her to completing the McDonald’s Next Generation program and becoming a driving force behind our business and organization today.
The brand has taken a stand, but it’s up to each of us in the McDonald's system to inspire positive change where we do business. We understand what the Black community is going through, we empathize with the pain people are feeling. And we will continue using our platform to remain that force within Philadelphia that says loud and proud: we are African American business owners, and we are lifting our communities up.
We do that through connection, conversation, and food. We employ more than 425 people locally, and at the beginning of the pandemic, we decided that for every shift worked, each employee could take a bundle box home, which feeds a family of four. During these trying times, we wanted to be sure our employees, whose household incomes might have been reduced, could continue to feed their families. Our goal is to bring different kinds of people to join together and share experiences, get to know people outside of your circle, dance, and enjoy a burger and fries. In some of our restaurants, we host a Gospel Brunch. We offer free meals, and we all share conversation about faith. In another one of our restaurants, on Temple University’s undergraduate campus, we host “Club Mickey D’s” with late night DJ sessions, lively music and fun.
Because of the pandemic, we have had to alter the way we reach out. In two of our restaurants in North Central Philadelphia, we host monthly live remote gospel music and a Sunday Teen Fellowship Breakfast. Teens join us to talk about issues that concern them, and we offer a free breakfast for all.
We understand and share the hurt and fear many are experiencing in our city. As African Americans, we know the fight will continue because the evolution will continue. Our wall of art will always grow as we create change and more of the experiences of African-Americans are recognized. We operate our business from this outlook, “There are no problems in life, ONLY challenges to solutions!”
John A. Dawkins and his daughter, Danielle Dawkins-Alston, are the owners of The Dawkins Management Group LLC, which owns and operates six McDonald’s Family Restaurants in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.