Recently I had the opportunity to cover the U.S. Swimming Championships at the Natatorium and meet Cullen Jones.
We spoke at length about his passion for swimming and his commitment to minority children and their access to proper swimming lessons. I indeed went away feeling uplifted.
That feeling would be a short-lived sensation.
When I heard about the Valley Club incident in Huntingdon Valley Pa., lets just say I fell hard from the high I was on after speaking to Jones. How could 65 mostly Black and Hispanic children be denied further access to a swimming pool they had paid to swim in? Could this really be happening?
I just had to call The Valley Club and find out for myself and after calling around this is what I can share with you.
Hey, lets give them a break. It only took an overnight letter from a U.S. Senator and the wrath of an outraged nation to get them to call a meeting in which an “almost unanimous” vote produced a ruling that said it was fine for Black and Hispanic children to swim there. And besides, they have been busy, letting their phones go to voice mail so they wouldn’t have to speak to an angry country, and changing their website so it would no longer be accessible to the general public. After all, we cannot have any angry emails to this private club, folks. Please, none of that moral and ethical stuff.
But what occurred on June 29 was one of the most unsettling things I have seen in some time, as these children had their monies refunded and denied future access from the Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. after it was determined that their presence changed the complexion and atmosphere according to Club President John Duesler.
I am willing to go out on a limb and say the terms complexion and atmosphere were probably substituted for not welcome here due to your race more so than the inability to do the backstroke.
Duesler continued to stick his foot further in to his mouth and down his throat by saying, “We underestimated the size of the group.” Sure John, you simply forgot the actual size of the pool. I can see how when you computed the fee of $1,950.00 for 65 day campers to swim, you totally forgot that each one of them would actually be there to swim amongst your all white membership. Simply a computation error, John?
The children to date have been represented by a tough as nails lady named Aletha Wright who directs the day camp at Creative Steps Day Care Center in Philadelphia. While Wright was unavailable to speak to me when I called her, she has been repeatedly quoted by various news organizations as stating numerous campers were subjected to unsettling comments.
Many of the children were upset and moved to tears according to Wright, and she firmly believes that Duesler’s comments regarding underestimating the impact of the group’s size is simply a way of masquerading the consensus opinion of the club, and she feels this incident was purely racially motivated.
While I have never been a fan of Arlen Spector, the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania wasted no time in issuing a protest letter to the Valley Club and made it clear that this type of alleged behavior could not be tolerated under any situation.
Some of the swimmers are receiving pro bono legal services from Philadelphia attorney David Mildenburg, who filed a complaint against the Valley Club in U.S. District Court recently. The complaint is on behalf of the mother of four children attending the day camp. It has been reported that after learning about the lawsuit, the Valley Club had changed their position on the matter and would like the children to return and swim once again. Purely a coincidence I am sure.
When I phoned Mildenburg in his office, he could not comment on the specifics of the offer by the Valley Club, but said, “In most cases like these when a complaint has been filed, the court will allow both parties time to potentially resolve the class action without going to trial. I feel that is a possibility here as well.” He went on to add that he was appalled by what had happened and looked forward to the day when we would not have such circumstances occurring in our country.
Now that the Valley Club has apparently done an about face on their approach to equal opportunity, what is the next step for these innocent children who have been victimized?
Reportedly, a nearby boarding school has offered the children the use of their swimming pool. When I called the Girard College Boarding School to confirm, their communications personnel would not confirm or deny that offer existed.
Still, this case serves as a blatant reminder that while we have made tremendous strides in this country, we still have the need for increased efforts to prohibit this type of behavior from ever occurring again in America, not just Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the Valley Club would be well served to close it’s doors in shame until they are able to provide a setting that is consistent with the virtues that one would have assumed to be in place there many years ago. Until then, God bless Aletha Wright and the children at Creative Steps Day Care, and make them strong in the face of such injustice, so they may someday be able to look back at those from the Valley Club with the same respect and dignity they were denied on June 29.
Notes: Upon learning of the incident, Cullen Jones released a statement that clearly and firmly denounced the actions of those involved at the Valley Club. Jones was visibly disturbed by the events and called for an immediate resolution to the matter.
Jones went on to qualify for the World Championships in Rome.
The Valley Swim Club’s address is: 22 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA. 19006 and their phone number is (215) 947-0700. Contact them as soon as possible and tell them swimming is an equal opportunity activity here in Indiana.
Danny Bridges, who will continue to pray for Aletha Wright and the 65 children at the Creative Steps Daycare in Philadelphia, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.