Black and Latino children from a Northeast Philadelphia day camp who were disinvited from a Huntingdon Valley swim club were hailed yesterday as new voices in the struggle for racial equality.
"You're special," State Rep. Jewell Williams (D., Phila.) told the children, who gathered in a meeting room at WDAS-FM (105.3) in Bala Cynwyd for a seminar on human relations. "You young people woke us up. You reminded us where we came from."
The hour-long seminar was sponsored by the radio station and the Philadelphia NAACP. The event was recorded and will be broadcast on WDAS and its sister station, Power 99 (WUSL-FM, 98.9) Sunday morning, officials said.
NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire said the program was "put together to make this a teachable moment for the children."
Yesterday, the children were shown Jim Crow-era photographs, including water fountains bearing "white only" or "colored only" signs, and asked to share their feelings on the racial furor ignited by the swim club controversy.
On June 29, black and Latino children from the city camp Creative Steps Inc. made their first visit to the Valley Club. They said some members made racial remarks and took their children from the pool. A few days later, the Montgomery County club refunded a $1,950 check to the camp to terminate the children's memberships.
The incident is being reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department and is being investigated by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Amid the outcry, the actor and playwright Tyler Perry announced that he would pay for the 65 children to visit Walt Disney World this weekend. And yesterday afternoon, the children were headed to Dorney Park in Allentown after being given tickets the radio station had planned to use for a company picnic.
At the seminar, Dymir Baylor, 14, a freshman at George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia, said being rejected by the swim club was a troubling experience.
"Since I had never experienced racial prejudice in my life, I learned that it can be very cruel and hurtful," Dymir said. "I also learned that out of this bad incident, something good can happen."
Marcus Allen, 11, a seventh grader at Abington Junior High School, said being disinvited at the swim club "affected me greatly, because I live around there and I didn't think that people still thought like that in 2009."
Loraine Ballard Morrill, news and community affairs director for Clear Channel Radio, which owns the two radio stations, said: "In all the hype over this whole situation, we wanted to give the children a chance to speak about their own experience and what their message is to the general public."
Alethea Wright, director of the Creative Steps camp, said she had no plans to take the children back to the Valley Club, though the club reversed itself and invited them to return.
"This is the first outing that we've had where they're actually getting some feedback about human rights and about empowering who they are inside," Wright said of yesterday's seminar.
Jabril Brown, 12, a seventh grader at Carnell School in the Northeast, said the controversy "showed me that people cared about us, and it let me know that everyone in the world is not mean and prejudiced."