This one, I take personally.
I grew up in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia, a mile and a half from the just-over-the-county-border Valley Swim Club, so this is a community I know intimately well. And I am not surprised. Huntingdon Valley is an exceedingly white and wealthy suburb with a significant Jewish population, though three separate people have mentioned to me in the past 12 hours that they remember hearing this club also had a problem admitting us Hebrews as members in the 1980s. Just over that border line is Philmont Heights, a Philadelphia neighborhood of brick duplexes increasingly inhabited by Philadelphia's growing Russian immigrant population, and itself predominately Jewish.
Also, I want you to set your class bearings a little: it's a swim club, not a country club -- i.e., swimming pool, snack bar, playground, but not a golf course, banquet hall or any of the amenities one would associate with the latter. That's why full membership was only $395 for the summer. So think more working class to upper middle class than Judge Smalls and the Underhills.
Okay. Onto today's updates. Philadelphia Inquirer:
The camp first contacted the club about membership after the New Frankford Community Y in the Frankford section of the city - where the children used to swim - closed last month because of lack of money. The club is about a 20-minute drive from the camp's location at Devereaux and Summerdale Avenues in Northeast Philadelphia.
The campers swim at an indoor pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Jewish Community Center in Philadelphia, but Wright said the camp wanted to get them to an outdoor facility as well. She said Girard College had offered its pool to the campers for the rest of the summer....
Several parents and the camp are looking into possible legal action against the club, said Staci Morgan, a Creative Steps board member and Philadelphia social worker.
Their options depend on whether the state Human Relations Commission has jurisdiction over the club's operations, said Michael Hardiman, a lawyer with the commission. Organizations that are "distinctly private" do not fall under that jurisdiction.
Hardiman would not say whether the Valley Swim Club met the commission's criteria for investigation.
According to 14-year-old camper Dymir Baylor, with whom I spoke yesterday, some of the comments were heartless.
"I heard a white lady say, 'What are all these black kids doing here? They might do something to my child,' " recalled Dymir, who says he lives in a neighborhood so diverse, he'd never heard anyone speak like that before. "It was rude and ignorant."
His mom, Sharrae Thompson, was appalled that an adult would behave so terribly.
"I was just shocked," she said. "This is 2009. You can't believe people would carry on like that."
Wright was adamant that Duesler make things right.
"I told him, 'The parents don't want their money back. They want a good place for their children to swim, which is what they paid for. Please, let's try to work this out.' "
Obviously, there might be less here than meets the eye. Having seen The Valley Club, I can say that its pool is a good size, but not huge. Perhaps 65 children entering the pool, en masse, does indeed overwhelm its quiet feel.
So, maybe race, for some members, has nothing to do with why Creative Steps was kicked out.
Maybe they're just greedy.
Maybe they're just too greedy to give up 90 minutes per week - just 90 lousy minutes - to make 65 children happy for the summer.
Maybe they're too greedy to say, "This camp thing isn't working the way we'd hoped. But let's ride it out, just for this year."
Y'know, for the kids.
Creative Steps executive director Aletheah Wright says memberships were arranged through e-mail and paid for in advance, but when the kids showed up at the club, she says members made racially insensitive comments and took their kids out of the pool:
"One of the members was shouting out, 'We're gonna see to it that they don't come back anymore.' And two days later, Dr. John called me and said, 'Miss Wright, I truly apologize, I'm so embarrassed, but the membership has overthrown me in votes and you're not going to be able to come back to the club.'"
There is racial progress in America -- but it's sure easy to get swept away in the powerful symbols, most notably a black president and even the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the funeral of a popular African-American entertainer. Symbols can be just that, while real progress against deep-seated and irrational prejudices can be a neverending struggle, a million small battles fought in places like a quiet suburban swimming pool. Which is why they sing that "We shall overcome...some day."
And finally, via Philadelphia community organizer Marc Stier, founder of the Facebook group Ready To Protest Racial Discrimination at the Valley Swim Club:
What is there to say to decent people about the existence of blatant racism in this day and age? It’s grossly immoral. It’s enormously ignorant. It’s a throwback to days most of us hoped were long gone.
And it can’t be allowed to stand without legal action and protest. Not to stand up and say that this sort of behavior is beyond the pale, is to allow it, and the attitudes behind it, to survive one more day.
So, an initial protest against the club will take place today at 5:30 pm. Come to the club, 22 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley 19006-4219.
The best things in America, including our efforts to overcome the worst thing in America, our legacy of racism were created by small acts of love and self-sacrifice—individual acts of moral heroism—on the part of millions of people.
Now is your time to join us in such an act. Sacrifice an hour or two of your day to stand against racism.
updated with one more:
[T]he staff at Girard College, a private Philadelphia boarding school for children who live in low-income and single parent homes, stepped in and offered their pool.
"We had to help," said Girard College director of Admissions Tamara Leclair. "Every child deserves an incredible summer camp experience."
The school already serves 500 campers of its own, but felt they could squeeze in 65 more – especially since the pool is vacant on the day the Creative Steps had originally planned to swim at Valley Swim Club.
"I'm so excited," camp director Alethea Wright exclaimed. There are still a few logistical nuisances -- like insurance -- the organizations have to work out, but it seems the campers will not stay dry for long.
And to sweeten the deal, the owners of Gumdrops & Sprinkles treated the kids to a free day of candy and ice cream making.
The banning has caused so much controversy that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) plans to launch an investigation into the discrimination claim.
"The allegations against the swim club as they are reported are extremely disturbing," Specter said in a statement. "I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts. Racial discrimination has no place in America today."
3pm update -- an email from a new reader, and it's funny because as a GWHS '90 grad, the only time I was ever beaten up was by a bunch of white kids on Depue Place on 10/31/90:
Stop your race card playing, I lived in Somerton since 1972, there is a reason why Philly has white neighborhoods where people keep their homes nice and streets crime free with neighborhood crime watch. People live there because it is a rich white section. I lived in back of GWHS and everyday because they bus the thugs from thee black sections police storm up Northeast Ave to babysit dismissal. Sometimes helicopters are circling the school because of some violence caused by then. They stay in our neighborhood, robbing people, selling drugs . It is the black people .The white who chose to work for a living to live in such a great part of Philly deserve a place to enjoy without being subjected to the children being raised in thug families. Now get off your anti white crap or paint your face black, we the white people with the white pride are proud of our skin color, if you are not, paint your face black. No problem.