Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fool on the Hill

Before you get to the pool at The Valley Club, you have to climb up a very, very steep hill. One that, at its peak, rewards your efforts with a gorgeous view of the valley below. To get there, however, you need to lug all of your swimming gear - your towels, your cooler, your duffle bags, etc. - up what can seem to a kid to be akin to a miniature Mount Everest.

Let's just say that I know this fact from firsthand experience. And yes, I'm referring to that Valley Club - the same Valley Club that's attracting national attention across the country and throughout the blogosphere as a result of the incident involving 65 children - all African-American or Hispanic - from a Northeast Philadelphia day camp.

According to the news accounts (and I've read too many to link to just one), the director of a nearby day camp contracted with The Valley Club and paid nearly $2,000 so that her campers could go swimming there on Mondays. Just on Mondays, mind you, and only for 90 minutes.

So, on June 29, the campers arrived. All 65 of them. It was their first visit to the Club - as well as their last. Seems that a few of the Club's members plucked eyebrows were raised higher than The Valley Club's 10 foot diving board, as the kids' presence caused some consternation among the members. Subsequently, the camp's payment was refunded with the sentiment that they were asked not to return. According to the club president, it seems that some members were concerned that the campers' presence would "change the complexion" of the Club.

And that would be, apparently, because the campers in question are African-American. And that is ... how shall we say? A little bit of a different demographic than what typically makes up The Valley Club's membership.

He then corrected his poor (but telling) word choice by saying he meant the "atmosphere" of the Club. Now, tonight club officials are saying the camp was asked not to return because The Valley Club couldn't handle 65 kids. This after knowing well in advance that 65 campers would be showing up. Nobody thought to prepare for that?

Now, 65 kids is a lot of kids. I think we can all agree on that. And the fact of the matter is that this is not a large, community recreation center type of pool. It's on the smaller side, as pools go, and frankly, 65 children in the shallow end of the pool would have been too close for comfort regardless of whether they were white, black, red, yellow, pink, green, or some combination thereof.

Still, this is discrimination at its abhorrent worse. And to say this has been handled poorly is an understatement. It's a crisis communications case study for any Public Relations 101 course. And since The Valley Club could use the services of a PR professional right about now, I offer some free advice (and free might be all they can afford; even if they do wind up staying in business, which I highly doubt is possible at this point, the legal bills will be out the whazoo).

1) Issue an apology, in post and in haste. It'll fall on deaf ears, it'll be disingenuous and insincere sounding, but just do it already.

2) Stop denying that you discriminate. You do, and you have. For years. Well before these campers were even born. Admit that fact and take steps to change that. Immediately.

3) Do something about that hill, the one you have to lug all your gear up in order to get to the pool.

What, you can't alter the actual terrain of the land that your Club sits on? OK, that's understandable. But yes, there's something you can do about the obstacles that stand in the way of enjoying a perfect June afternoon at the pool.

You can tell your members - and yourselves - to leave their prejudiced 1950s segregation baggage at the bottom before climbing that hill to enjoy the view high above everyone else.

Day after day, alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still,
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

Well on his way his head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make,
And he never seems to notice,
But the fool on the hill . . .

"Fool on the Hill", The Beatles (1967)


DemMom said...

I cannot believe he actually said "change the complexion!" WOW.

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Yes, indeed. Unbelievable.

Lori said...

I really wish the news would stop saying things about Philadelphia and the City of Brotherly Love. That pool isn't in Philly! We have enough problems without being blamed for this too! LOL (said the Philly girl)

You would think that the pool members and board would have had a meeting or this would have been known in advance, voted on or something. It couldn't have been a complete surprise to members.

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Lori, I hear you with the Philly-bashing on this. It's not fair to characterize an entire city for the actions of a few, especially when the incident occurred in the suburbs, for goodness sakes. And I agree, SOMEONE at The Valley Club knew about this and was derelict (or just plain stupid)in their advance preparations.

It is interesting to see the coverage of this today and how the tide seems to be shifting slightly. More fodder for another blog post .... :)

Mel @ A Box of Chocolates said...

I hadn't heard the whole story so thanks for shedding the light. WOW! What a mess. I agree that 65 children is quite a bit of children, but you would have thought somebody would have realized that before they showed up. It's still amazes me that so many people still discriminate. How sad and ignorant of them!