On the evening of July 9, Armani Ford and 10 other friends set out for a night on the town to celebrate his 16th birthday. As they made their way to Club Zoo, an under 21 club in the Strip District, their excitement filled the limousine rented by Armani’s grandmother for the special occasion.

However, the young men’s excitement quickly disintegrated when they were denied admittance to Club Zoo. According to Armani, the teens were told they looked like “thugs.”

“We was walking up the ramp and we was trying to get in,” Armani said. “The guy said we looked like we were trying to start trouble.” Now, Armani and his family are alleging racism, claiming the young men were turned away for being Black. However, Armani admits he and his friends were asked for identification, which they didn’t have, but not before they were told they would not be admitted because of their appearance and because they were from Clairton, Pa.

“I was not at the door during the weekend there. I’m sure what they were turned away for was a dress code infraction. We enforce the dress code for safety reasons. We don’t turn people away based on where they’re from. It’s a very long list,” said Assistant Manager Mike Mckenzie, running through a list of possible violations including tattoos, gang colors, stacking, basketball shorts and even the way a person’s eyebrows are shaved. “We’re the tri-state areas only under 21 club and we’ve been in operation for so long because we really care about the safety. We’d love to have them come back next week if they’re dressed appropriately.”

The club’s dress code is not listed on the venue’s Website and can be based on the bouncer’s discretion. In an effort to prepare for the evening, Armani’s grandmother Renee Ford called the venue in advance to find out the club’s dress code. She said Club Zoo staff did not say anything about requiring identification.

“Saturday we had a birthday party for my grandson. They wanted to go to Club Zoo. We called down and talked to the manager and asked how they were supposed to dress,” Ford said. “They had on polo shirts, nice jeans, and white tennis shoes. They got down there and one of the bouncers said they weren’t allowed in because they looked like thugs.”

In January, Club Zoo, celebrated its 15 year anniversary. The club has come a long way since it first opened in Parkway Center Mall in Greentree, originally conceived as an initiative to keep teens off the streets.

“I thought it was a nice idea to have a club for kids under 18 because it seems like there’s no where to go,” said Ford who’s family lives in Clairton. “There’s nothing around here for young kids.”

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