Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Bless the Child

Earlier this week the details surrounding The Creative Steps Day Care’s raggedy experience at the privately owned Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County came to light. According to news reports, Creative Steps negotiated a seasonal membership of $1900 with the club’s management that would have allowed the campers weekly group swimming sessions. The campers at Creative Steps are predominately African-American and Hispanic and once they arrived for their first visit to the club on June 29, they were met with cold stares and a less than welcoming vibe. A few of the campers even heard at least three of the club members make disparaging comments about the campers’ presence at the pool. Following this initial visit, the swim club suspended Creative Steps membership and offered to refund all of their money.

The camp doesn’t want a refund, but to offer their campers a weekly opportunity to play in an outdoor pool in a safe and clean environment. The president of the swim club has apologized but insists that his mostly-white membership are not racists, but has been told by some of the members that the campers presence at the pool will change the “complexion” of the pool. WTF?

This story has gone viral on the internet and received worldwide media attention. Although it’s apparent to me that the club’s reaction smacks of racism, I do think it’s important to offer a slightly broader perspective. As a board member of the nation’s oldest privately-owned African-American swim club, the Nile Swim Club, I know first-hand that allowing access to the pool’s facilities and amenities can sometimes cause tension between our membership and seasonal guests/rentals. But, the Nile has a robust camp program and we welcome over 200 campers to our pool daily, Monday through Friday. The camp program is a vital earned-income stream for our facility and we often find ourselves having to explain to our members the importance of our camp program in offering financial stability to the institution. Communication between our board and membership is key.

The Nile was founded 50 years ago because the Yeadon Swim Club refused membership to African-American residents of Yeadon, PA. My grandparents, Walter and Veronica Nelson, were a part of the founding group in 1959. These members decided to pool their resources together and build a club where they could come with their friends and family and feel welcome, instead of spending their money in legal action demanding that the Yeadon Swim Club become integrated. Now, 50 years later, the Yeadon Swim Club no longer exists and the Nile is still offering a respite for families and campers in the surrounding area.

It’s a sad moment for parents when they witness their children experience a real/ perceived racist act for the very first time. We all know it’s coming eventually, but when it finally hits, it’s like a punch in the gut and wears you out. You have to take a deep breath and do your best not to let the incident become a defining moment, but preparation and ongoing conversations are required because it’s still a fact of life for children of color. I faced a similar moment like the parents of the Creative Step campers earlier this year with an incident between Miss Olivia and a parent of a soccer team of an opposing team in a neighboring league, which included the parent referring to Olivia as that little colored girl with those dreaded things in her hair.

There was a call for folks to gather today in front of the Valley Swim Club and march in protest of their treatment of Creative Steps. Me, I’m not down for marching in this instance… no, I’m taking a page from my family’s history book and I reached out to Creative Step and invited them to join our program at the Nile. To be honest, I could care less about the Valley Swim Club and their raggedy, lily-white club… they can keep it. I’m confident their exclusive policies will lead them to the same demise of the Yeadon Swim Club. God bless the child that got his own.


Awo said...

I definitely agree with you that we should have our own institutions. But I also feel,to quote from Brown v. Board of Ed, that "separate but equal is not equal". Being excluded because of your race just sucks, and it's a shame kids still have to go through that.

Mango Mama said...

Awo, I agree, but I also think integration didn't necessarily benefit Black-owned businesses and instead of giving our resources to White-owned businesses, we could make great investments in building our minority-owned institutions.

There is no excuse for how these children were treated and unfortunately, this experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives.