Racism at Philly Pool

Less than 24 hours after the “official” signing of the Allegheny County Human Relations Ordinance comes word that a Philadelphia private swim club won't let a summer camp filled with children of color swim at their pool.  From CNN:

The Creative Steps Day Care children — ages kindergarten through seventh grade — went to the Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, on June 29.

The day center's director, Alethea Wright, had contracted to use the club once a week. During their first visit, some children said they heard club members asking why African-American children were there.

One of the boys told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a woman at the club said she feared the children “might do something” to her child.

Days later, the day care center's $1,950 check was returned without explanation, Wright said.

The families are utilizing Pennsylvania's Human Relations Commission to investigate wrongdoing.  So here is a concrete, albeit completely demoralizing, example of how this body makes a difference. 

The stepfather of one of the children was filing a complaint against the club with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the panel's chairman, Stephen Glassman, said Thursday. VideoWatch one of the children say what he heard at the swim club »

The commission is investigating the allegations, spokeswoman Shannon Powers said, and will attempt to resolve the conflict out of court.

“Protests and public outcry won't do much to help these families, but the Human Relations Commission can determine the facts and hold people accountable for any illegal acts of discrimination,” State NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire, who serves as a commission member, said in a press release.

The camp is allegely not returning media phone contacts.  They took their website down and put up this statement:

The Valley Club is deeply troubled by the recent allegations of racism which are completely untrue.

We had originally agreed to invite the camps to use our facility, knowing full well that the children from the camps were from multi-ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps. All funds were returned to the camps and we will re-evaluate the issue at a later date to determine whether it can be feasible in the future.

Our Valley Club deplores discrimination in any form, as is evidenced by our multi-ethnic and diverse membership. Whatever comments may or may not have been made by an individual member is an opinion not shared by The Valley Club Board.

I was horrified watching Ms. Wright and her 11 year old son on the CBS Early Show describing their experience.  This young boy was talking about the comments grown white adults made about him and his friends — they might steal, they might hurt other children, they didn't want “them” there, etc — and was so stoic.  Kudos to his mother and the community for teaching him resiliency and advocacy by fighting back against injustice.

But how sad that in the summer of 2009, Pennsylvania children still have to deal with struggles to integrate swimming pools. 

Swimming pools!

This is an example of why Allegheny County did the right thing last week.  It is 2009 and Pennsylvania has a long way to go until we don't need legal protections for minority groups. 


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