On June 29, a group of 65 kids attending the Creative Steps camp went out for a preplanned field trip to The Valley Club in Philadelphia. The kids’ outing was to simply use the pool at The Valley Club, and the camp had paid $1,950 to bring the kids there for the day. Unfortunately, once the group of 65 kids arrived at The Valley Club, they were first allowed to change into their swimsuits, then when they started to go to the pool area, they turned away. The majority of the kids are African-American and Hispanic, and as they were being turned away, a few of the kids later told the Creative Steps director they heard racist comments coming from the white adults and children at the club.
One camper reported hearing a woman ask “‘Why’s there so many black kids here,’ cause she said she was afraid that we might do something to her child.” Another child said, “All the Caucasian people, they got treated nicely. They had lockers and everything. But we had to put our book bags on the table outside. I had to get changed in the bathroom.” Camp director Alethea Wright said, “A couple of the children ran down saying, ‘Miss Wright, Miss Wright, they’re up there saying, “What are those black kids doing here?’” Meanwhile, The Valley Club’s spokesperson told the press that the kids were denied access to the pool because of overcrowding issues, and the club refunded the camp’s fee.
This whole incident is causing a local furor within Philadelphia, and a war of words amongst black and Hispanic activists, spokespeople for The Valley Club and Creative Steps, and now the local and federal government. The Justice Department is now investigating The Valley Club for racial discrimination. As everyone stews in their own juices during the long, hot Philadelphia summer, writer/director Tyler Perry has stepped up to offer the 65 Philly kids a wonderful chance to do something fun during their summer holiday. Tyler is sending the kids (and presumably, their parents) on an all-expenses-paid three-day trip to DisneyWorld:
Tyler Perry is playing Santa to 65 Pennsylvania children from a largely minority day-care center whose outing was axed when they were turned away by a predominantly white swim club.
Instead of wading in the waters of the so-called exclusive Valley Swim Club in suburban Philly – whose members feared an influx of the black and Hispanic children, the adults were quoted as saying – these kids are going to Disney World, with Perry paying for the works: airfare, food, hotel and admissions for the three-day visit.
“He wanted to do something nice for them and let them know that for every negative experience, there are people out there who want them to succeed regardless of the color of their skin,” Keleigh Thomas, publicist for the producer and Madea Goes to Jail star, tells CNN.
“I am ecstatic for the children,” said Alethea Wright, the Creative Steps day-care center director, adding that the Perry offer came through on Friday.
As Perry said on his Web site about the actions of the Valley Swim Club, “This made me so angry. This is awful, and for anyone that has grown up in the inner-city, you know that one small act of kindness can change your life.”
He added about the children, “I want them to know that for every act of evil that a few people will throw at you, there are millions more who will do something kind for them. This is all about the kids.”
It’s a real cool gesture for Tyler Perry, and it’s wonderful that there’s at least one African-American activist who was really thinking about the kids who were victimized, instead of just the usual peanut gallery of self-absorbed talking heads on the 24-hour news channels. I bet those kids will have a great time at DisneyWorld, and I hope the situation in Philadelphia calms down, and people come to some sort of general consensus about what’s appropriate and what is disrespectful and insensitive.
Update: Here is a local news report from Philadelphia about the kids being turned away. It was definitely about race. The swim club released a statement saying “”There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club.” Thanks to Annie for commenting with this link.
Tyler Perry is shown on 2/12/09 and 2/18/09. Credit: WENN.com