Reminder of segregation? Or just an unfortunate handling of a safety concern?

    The cancellation of a contract between an urban summer camp made up of mostly African American kids and a predominantly white suburban swim club has stirred a whole range of emotions.

    For some it’s a reminder of segregation all over again, for others it’s an unfortunate handling of a safety concern. That’s the story WHYY’s Chris Satullo explores in this week’s Center Square.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20090719.mp3]

    No doubt, some members of the Valley Club behaved abominably when the kids from Creative Steps summer camp visited their suburban pool a few weeks back.

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    But now, some adults connected with the summer camp are behaving pretty badly themselves. They’re on a litigious path that does little to help the kids.

    It’s a familiar sequence in our grievance-mongering land. Offense is given. Apology is demanded. Apology is offered. Apology is rejected. Why? Because sometimes, folks would rather have a grievance than an apology.

    Why did Creative Steps reject the club’s apologetic invitation for the kids to return to the pool?

    Because the kids supposedly were too scarred. Really? What happened June 29 at the pool was, without doubt, a chaotic, rotten experience, but let’s keep perspective. This wasn’t the bridge at Selma.

    Anyway, kids are resilient. Kids are flexible. Kids forgive. But kids also follow the lead of adults around them.

    If the adults are stuck on grievance, if the adults urge the kids to hype the harm, well, the kids likely will comply. What do the adults want? Well, it sort of seems what they want is a payday. This mantra about kids being “scarred for life” sounds like a lawyer rehearsing his opening argument.

    Ask yourself: What would Obama do?

    The president who gave that stirring speech on race in our city last year, would his first move be to look in the Yellow Pages under litigator? Would he refuse to return messages offering apology and redress?

    What’s best for the kids? To poke at the scab of humiliation? To set the kids up to sit one day in a witness stand, as a fierce defense lawyer seeks to demolish their accounts of that day?

    Or would this be better? For the embarrassed leaders of the swim club to sit across from these kids and say these powerful, necessary words: “What we did to you was wrong. We are sorry.”

    For once, let’s not call in the lawyers, for once. Let’s call in the mediators instead. Honest dialogue is no picnic, no panacea, but it costs far less in time, money and anger than a lawsuit.

    As Obama said, we have a choice. We can hunker down in cynicism, grievance and stereotype. Or we can try something new. What would Obama do? What would you do?

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