swinsignIf anybody thinks this country is completely post-race with the election of Barack Obama, think again:

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,'” said camper Dymire Baylor.

The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers’ first visit to the pool suggested otherwise.

“When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool,” Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. “The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately.”

The next day the club told the camp director that the camp’s membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded.

“I said, ‘The parents don’t want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'” camp director Aetha Wright said.

Campers remain unsure why they’re no longer welcome.

“They just kicked us out. And we were about to go. Had our swim things and everything,” said camper Simer Burwell.

The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.

“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat.


Clearly, we have more than enough evidence that discimination and bigotry did not suddenly disappear after Obama was sworn in. That’s a given, and not even worth the time to examine. Instead, over at one of my favorite spots, Mirror on America, I took a less than conventional approach when dealing with racism: I turned the spotlight back on us. I hope I’m not on track to receive the “Clarence Thomas Man of the Year Award” for saying any of this, but here are some random thoughts I have about this story:

(1) As much as it pains me to say this, this is a private establishment. Their pools, their rules. If they are forced to integrate their pool, where does it end? Will I be forced to invite certain people to my crib whom I’d rather avoid?

(2) I can’t help but to question our role in this situation. Obviously, I’m not casting blame on the children themselves. They did nothing wrong, except to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. Instead, I’m casting blame (even if only to a small degree) on thugs and knuckleheads (of all ages) who engage in bad behavior. Whether we like it or not, black folks in this country are one of the only racial groups consistently measured against one our less-than-ideal subsets. So, when we leave our house we automatically become  represenatives of our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, and our ENTIRE race. Our white brothers and sisters carry no such burden. If we judged White America by the Jerry Springer crowd, we could assume that all white people are from W. Virginia, love SPAM sandwiches, live in trailers supported by cinder blocks, go coon-hunting between NASCAR races, and marry their siblings.

About ten years ago, I got into some major trouble at my old place of employment. Some MAJOR trouble…as in criminal trouble. Outside of the obvious pain of getting caught and paying for it (by God’s grace and the kindness of a few people, I didn’t do any jail time or have a record to follow me), I was hurt because I knew in my heart that my antics would lead to a hundred other innocent black people being stereotyped. What we do as individuals doesn’t just affect us. It affect others. In this case, it affected children whose only crime was to get into a swimming pool. The folks concerned with the black kids in the pool obviously assumed they were trouble. That assumption was based – largely, I suspect – on the image we feed ignorant people through our actions. There, I said it.

(3) I read that in Philly, 27 public pools continue to be closed due to financial shortages. I’m not sure what the city is like in terms of its tax base, its public support of facilities, etc.; but if it’s anything like Flint, God help them. In my hometown of Flint – apparently, one of the poorest cities in the country – it is not unusual to see a church on every corner building some damn multi-million dollar, ego-feeding  “Community Center” which manages to somehow exclude the community itself. My old church for instance,  recently constructed a million dollar building which is currently being used for jack. It has a basketball court that only gets used about 50 times a year (as far as I can tell, anyway), locker rooms that are untouched, a fitness center that is locked each time I visit, and a whirlpool that hasn’t even been opened yet. Imagine what could come out of taking that center and investing it in the community. I’m no fan of segregation in the least bit, but those poor kids could have said “To hell with this racist country club crap. We’ve got our own pool…”

I remember as a kid, mine was one of the only households on the block with a basketball court. It wasn’t a court in the traditional sense. It was only a slab of cement; roughly the size of the free throw section (for you none-basketball people, it’s the rectangular area in this picture). But nobody seemed to mind the small size of our court. Kids from all over the neighborhood…and the surrounding neighborhoods would come by to play. And my parents were more than accommodating. It wasn’t until Craig ‘nem started making trouble that my parents had limit the number of people who came by. But in the end, my parents were able to serve dozens of kids each summer…and this all came from ONE HOUSEHOLD. Imagine the possibilities if citizens stopped wasting their time on the government and invested in their own communities.

None of this pardons the blantantly racist activity from the Valley Swim Club (in fact, if the spirit moves you, give those bastards a piece of your mind: 215-947-0700 or e-mail them at info@thevalleyclub.com). But there are other ways to redress the ills of racism. And it starts with a look in the mirror.