Florida teen seen in viral video gets a community car parade
WELLINGTON -- Breonna Nelson-Hicks stood by the side of the road Monday morning with her friend, Madison Charette. Decked in tiaras, the pair looked down the street as the first car came toward them.
“You belong on my school bus,” the sign read. The man behind the wheel drives the bus Breonna takes to Palm Beach Central High School.
Shocked, Breonna yelled, “That’s my bus driver!”
Like roughly three dozen others, the man showed his support for a teen who has been catapulted into the international spotlight after a video went viral showing Breonna, Madison and another friend being yelled at by a neighbor.
The video has sparked a conversation about race and acceptance in Wellington, where Breonna lives with her grandparents in the gated community of Grand Isles.
In the video taken June 14 in front of Breonna’s house by Madison, 60-year-old Lee Jeffers -- who lives on the street from the Nelson family -- is seen telling Breonna, who is Black, first, “You don’t belong in this development,” and later, “You do not deserve to be in here.”
Breonna was walking with Madison and another friend -- both of whom are white -- after they said Jeffers began following them. The teens had been riding on a golf cart driven by a teen boy, with another teen boy riding in the front seat. When they realized Jeffers was following them, the boys ran, leaving the girls to walk to Breonna’s house.
Jeffers continued to follow the teens, they said, leading to the incident in the Nelsons’ driveway.
Breonna, who attends Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, said she was surprised by the offer to have the parade. It was set up by Aimee Stern, a local community organizer who runs the popular Facebook group Mom’s Club of Wellington FL.
“I’m extremely proud of who Breonna is, and I think she’s an exemplary young woman who handled herself with grace and integrity,” Stern said.
About three dozen cars filed past the Nelson home Monday morning, with many drivers honking and waving signs of support for Breonna. Those in the vehicles also handed flowers, provided by Stern, to the teens.
The road on which the Nelsons live ends in a cul de sac, meaning each car also had to file past Jeffers home. The Palm Beach Post has attempted to contact Jeffers, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Healing by example
It’s been a rocky week for Breonna and her family since the video went viral.
Her grandfather, Tony Nelson, can be seen in the video coming out of the house to step between Jeffers and the teens. He has fielded dozens of phone calls from people around the world seeking comment from him.
Monday morning, he said he was “shocked” by the turnout for the parade.
“I think people genuinely just wanted to let Breonna and Madison know that people love them,” he said.
Those who know Breonna and the Nelson family have been “genuinely hurting for her,” he said.
But Nelson said he hopes that hurt extends to Jeffers, who has been under fire following the confrontation.
Jeffers is an analyst for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency confirmed last week. When the video went viral, Nelson was contacted by Joseph Edlow, deputy director of policy for USCIS.
In a text message to Edlow shared with The Post, Nelson told Edlow he did not want Jeffers to lose his job. The families are setting up a time for Jeffers to apologize, he said.
“Should Mr. Jeffers continue with his promises, he can help heal this country by example,” Nelson said.
A community commitment takes shape
Nelson and Jeffers met last week, the first step in a journey toward forgiveness, Nelson said. They were joined by two pastors from Christ Fellowship Church’s Royal Palm Beach campus, as well as Mayor Anne Gerwig, who led the group in prayer, Nelson said.
The Friday before the incident, Nelson had talked with Village Manager Paul Schofield about getting more involved in Wellington, helping with programs to reach out to underprivileged and disadvantaged youth.
Part of that is an internship program the village has run for several years. Nelson talked with Community Services Director Paulette Edwards, Human Resources Director Kim Gibbons and General Services Director Ed De La Vega. Nelson is chief operating officer of Premier Family Health, which has committed to taking on an intern as part of the program.
Jeffers also committed to becoming involved in the internship program, Nelson said.
In addition to the cars who filed along their street Monday morning, several neighbors stepped outside to show support.
Robert and Shari Markowitz moved into Grand Isles 21 years ago. They own Lutina’s Pizza and Subs in Wellington.
The incident captured on the video does not reflect the neighborhood they know so well, Robert Markowitz said.
“We have great families in here,” he said.
Initially, Breonna did not want to speak to reporters. But she changed her mind because, she said, the issue is bigger than her.
Breonna was bullied about six months ago because of her skin color, her mother, Shannon Nelson said. In a group text, several other teens had called Breonna a racial slur.
When she first heard about the June 14 incident and saw the video, Shannon Nelson, who works for Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, said she needed to make sure her daughter was taking time to process what happened.
“Her heart was my main concern,” Shannon Nelson said.
Breonna said she is happy about Jeffers’ willingness to apologize and work with Nelson to begin to make amends.
“I wanted to show it for all of the girls who have been in my situation,” Breonna said, adding, “We’re going to make this negative situation into a positive one.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Tony Nelson, who said he wants to make sure any change he’s part of in Wellington will last.
“Let’s not lose focus that this is not just about Breonna, Madison and my family,” he said. “I truly feel that we can make a difference.”
He hopes everyone in Wellington will get involved.
“Because I know that’s what Wellington is,” Nelson said.