COLUMN: Racism or not, kids deserve more from adults

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
– George Bernard Shaw

The Valley Swim Club in Huntington Valley, Pa., is in a bit of hot water. Well deserved, as I see it.
The private club agreed to allow kids from a nearby day camp to swim one day a week this summer. Creative Steps Day Camp, of course, paid for the privilege – nearly $2,000.
Several weeks ago, all paid up for the summer, the staff of the day camp brought 65 kids to enjoy the pool for a few hours. The uproar that ensued continues.
After their first visit, the club revoked the swimming privileges and returned the day camp’s check, citing safety issues. Valley Swim Club folks say they didn’t know how many kids would be swimming.
That’s pretty crucial information someone ought to have found out before agreeing to allow the kids to swim, before taking the day camp’s money.
Some of the visiting kids, most of whom were African-American and Hispanic, have said they heard unkind remarks made by club members regarding their presence. One claims to have heard a woman ask “why are black children swimming in our pool?” Another says someone said, “They might steal from us.”
Cries of racism rose quickly, but were denied vehemently by the swim club.
Of course, a statement issued by the club’s president, John Duesler, after the denials tends to negate them: “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion and the atmosphere of the club.”
Poor choice of words? I’ll say.
Now there’s a civil rights suit and all manner of meanness in progress. But worse than that, a lot of innocent children have been disappointed and hurt.
This will stay with them. They will not forget. And that is shame.

One long, hot summer
In the town where I grew up, we had a great city pool. Back then, it appeared huge to me. To my adult eyes it would likely seem smaller.
It had the highest diving board I’d ever seen, a lower one for the less bold and a steep, slippery slide for the wild and crazy.
A separate kiddie pool kept most preschoolers out of our way.
That pool offered a cool, blue intermission from the hot and humid summer days. Back then I wasn’t enlightened enough to realized that respite was only offered to white folks.
But I do remember the summer the edict was issued that the pool was open to all people, regardless of skin color.
I remember adults voicing their absurd, but, I believe, very sincere fears of what might happen if black and white children swam together.
And so they met, the city fathers and parents – Caucasians all – and made the decision we all had to live with.
The pool was closed.
Thanks to a whole lot of sincere ignorance, it was a long, hot, miserable summer.
Especially for those of us who didn’t understand.

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@djournal.com or (662) 678-1584.

Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal