Friday, July 10, 2009

Swimming Intolerance

Disturbing new came out of the Philadelphia Pa. area this week. In Montgomery County, a private swim club decided that it couldn't or wouldn't accommodate a group of minority children swimming in their pool. This was after the group, Creative Steps Day Camp, had paid the pool $1, 950 and signed a contract for the pool's use. Apparently, after the children got to the pool, club members took exception, and put pressure on the club president to get rid of the kids. You can read the details of the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspaper or any other major paper across the country, because they all covered it. For me, the story brought up a painful memory from my own childhood involving a swimming venue.

In my circumstance, I had accompanied several of my white school friends to their neighborhood swimming area, which was located in a fairly well to do area of our town. We rode our bicycles to the location up steep, hilly streets on a very hot summer day. We were looking forward to taking a dip in the cooling waters. One after another, my friends dropped their bikes and ran into the water. I dropped mine and followed them.

Funny thing happened though - the parents of white children began running into the water to get their children out! I didn't understand why until one of them loudly let everyone know there was a "Nigger" in the lake and pointing at me. The good news was, my friends and I suddenly had the whole swimming area to ourselves. The bad news was, I felt embarrassed and humiliated to think that people thought I was diseased and wouldn't allow their children to swim in the same water with me because I was Black.

That was 40 years ago. It's amazing how as time moves on, some things change and some things remain the same. Yes, I am saddened by the actions in my childhood and those in Montgomery Count Pa. It would be easy to remain bitter and victimized by these incidents. However, good things actually come out of trying circumstances. In my case, it renewed my desire to be the best that I could be and never accept second class treatment from anyone. It made me stronger.

For those children in Pa., the outpouring of support from across the country has been incredible. These children will be receiving help and opportunities from Hollywood filmmakers, world class chefs, Olympic athletes, Police Athletic Clubs, and a host of others. Yes, I definitely "feel their pain" but I also see them handling it with pride and dignity. These children will be fine. But it is critically important for us adults to set the example, and remember not to judge all folks for the actions of an ignorant few. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, because our actions as viewed by our children, will set the tone for how they handle adversity in the future.

Remember, intolerance and ignorance starts at home.

Did You Know

Fact: In 1984 Republican James L. Usry was elected the first Black Mayor of Atlantic City, NJ

Fact: In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a bipartisan fair housing bill, which expanded protection against housing discrimination.

Fact: In 1990 the U.S.Golf Association followed the lead of the Professional Golfers Association required clubs hosting golf tournaments to ban discrimination against minorities and women.

(Source: Before the Mayflower - Bennett Jr., Lerone, A History of Black America.Chicago,2007).

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