Campers sent packing after first visit to swim club
By KAREN ARAIZA, NBC Philadelphia, July 8, 2009
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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.
Campers' "Complexion" No Problem for New Pool
Sen. Arlen Spector looking into accusations of racism
By VINCE LATTANZIO, NBC Philadelphia, July 9, 2009
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For kids in the summertime, there's nothing better than jumping full-speed into a pool to cool off. So when 65 kids from a Northeast Philadelphia camp were banned from taking a dip at a private swim club because of fears they would "change the complexion" and "atmosphere" of the club, they couldn't understand why.
Creative Steps Day Camp paid The Valley Swim Club more than $1900 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.
At first there was no explanation, but some of the campers recalled overhearing comments about the color of their skin while at the club.
Then the swim club president John Duesler issued this statement: "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club."
So the 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."