Racism and the Pool
Posted by shadmia on July 10, 2009
The president of Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., John Duesler Jr. issued the following statement after kicking out 65 kids (mostly Black and Hispanic) from the private club and returned the $1950 they had paid for swimming privileges.
“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion and atmosphere of the club,” said Valley Club president John Duesler Jr.
Creative Steps Day Camp paid The Valley Swim Club $1950 for one day of swimming a week, but after the first day, the money was quickly refunded and the campers were told not to return. Several campers said they heard pool members making racial remarks during their time inside the club.
“I heard one lady saying ‘Why’s there so many black kids here’ cause she said she was afraid that we might do something to her child,” recalled camper Dymire Baylor. “How could they say that?”
The Valley Swim Club was closed and its gates were locked as a firestorm of controversy surrounded its decision to expel the kids from Creative Steps Day Camp. Some Club members, who were at the pool on the day of the incident, came forward to defend the organization.
“This has nothing to do with race,” member Lori Slowinski said. “I paid my money for a private swim club…if they’re gonna have it out to camps, then I want my money back.”
“I was the first person to talk to the president, because the pool was overcrowded,” said Flynn. “As members we have nothing to hide. There’s good people here.”
In an effort to clarify its position the Valley Club issued the following 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.
“This will not be tolerated,” said Alethea Wright, executive director of Creative Steps, Inc., which has run the day camp since 1997. During the day at the club, Wright said she was approached by a 7-year-old boy who asked her, “Am I too black to go into the pool?”
“The children were very, very upset,” she said. “They still don’t understand.”
Wright said that Creative Steps had prior approval from the Valley Club board to buy memberships for 65 campers to swim at the club’s pool once a week. When they arrived June 29 for their first session there were problems from the beginning.
As her campers — boys and girls from kindergarten to 7th grade — entered the pool area to swim, parents began pulling their children out of the water and standing poolside with their arms crossed. Wright didn’t hear any racist comments made directly to them, but was told by three campers later that one white woman asked “what are these black kids doing here?”
Out of the more than two dozen white families swimming at the pool that day, Wright said, just three parents allowed their children to swim with her campers.
Specter called the allegations against the swim club “extremely disturbing.” He wrote a letter to Valley Club president John Duesler Jr., demanding to know the facts and offered his opinion on what should be done about the situation.
“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.“
“As a first step, without getting into all of the legal issues, it is my suggestion that you promptly reinstate the contract and welcome Ms. Alethea Wright’s group back to the pool. Whether they accept is up to them,” Specter wrote. “It may be that further action will be taken but my suggestion, as an immediate first step, would diffuse the situation and obviously be helpful.”
In the meantime, due to all the publicity, Girard College, a private Philadelphia boarding school for children who live in low-income and single parent homes, stepped in and offered their pool to Creative Steps.
“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.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said today it will launch an investigation of the country club’s actions at the request of the NAACP.