The ongoing saga of The Valley Club and the Creative Steps day camp simply won’t go away. You probably know what I’m talking about – the suburban Philadelphia swim club embroiled in a public relations and legal nightmare as a result of their actions toward the 65 children enrolled at Creative Steps Day Camp.
I wrote about this story on July 9 . All month long, hardly a day has gone by in our local press without some mention of this quagmire. It seems that everyone wants a piece of the action – not the least of which is the Executive Director of the camp who announced her intention, along with 45 parents of the campers, to sue The Valley Club.
The lawsuits (of which papers reportedly have not been filed yet) were inevitable in a case that appears to be, on the surface, blatant racial discrimination. Again, it’s unfortunate this even happened in the first place, and it is especially unfortunate that The Valley Club officials have been so bumbling and Three Stooges-like in their handling of a PR nightmare from hell that will not end. (I still maintain that, had someone with even the most rudimentary clue about the care and feeding of the media beast been managing this, then we might not be at this point. But, be that as it may ….)
By suing The Valley Club, the day camp will likely force the Club to close – permanently. A look at the Club’s finances shows that they don’t have the wherewithal for such legalities, unless a lawyer would take the case pro-bono.
Meanwhile, the kids from Creative Steps have been offered all kinds of other activities and outings (how many of those benefactors, I wonder, gave a crap about helping 65 African-American children before the feel-good PR benefits were at play?), free website design and assistance, and God knows what else. And this is all a good thing, because if one is to believe the Executive Director of the camp, the children in her camp are “permanently scarred.” (Are they really? Seriously? Then how come the only angle that hasn’t been reported is a story from a perspective of a counselor who has spent every day with these scarred kids?)
A lot of people are permanently scarred by this. Which leads me to the children’s book I read to my kids last night.
I picked up Mr. Peabody’s Apples at the library the other week, simply because the author is Madonna (yeah, that Madonna). I had low expectations, I must admit, and I was quick to judge the book – not based on the cover, per se, but just because the Material Girl was its author. And, y’know … I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great children’s story, one that was inspired by a nearly 300 year old story told to Madonna by her Kabbalah teacher. “It is about the power of words,” Madonna herself writes in the book’s aftermath. “And how we must choose them carefully to avoid causing harm to others.”
Mr. Peabody’s Apples is the fictional story of an elementary teacher who also coaches the Happville Little League baseball team. Billy Little, a student in Mr. Peabody’s class and on his team, admires his teacher and helps out whenever he can. After each game, Mr. Peabody stops by Mr. Funkadeli’s store, and from the fruit stand out front, takes the shiniest apple he can find – without paying. Another player, Tommy Tittlebottom, sees Mr. Peabody taking the apples on several occasions.
(Along me to interject here with a personal note to Lady Madonna, because I’m sure she’s reading this: I give you props for creative monikers, but um … given that you are Madonna, might you have come up with something other than Tommy Tittlebottom? I couldn’t even read that to my kids, and instead resorted to Tommy. However, my kids can read ….)
Back to Mr. Peabody and his penchant for apples. Tommy tells one person, then that person tells another, and soon word spreads throughout Happville that Mr. Peabody is a thief. Billy Little finally tells Mr. Peabody what people are saying, and together they visit Mr. Funkadeli. A simple explanation is provided (turns out Mr. Peabody pays for the apples in advance) and Billy then tells Tommy.
“Oh dear, Mr. Peabody,” said Tommy, on the doorstep. “I didn’t understand. I should not have said what I said, but it looked like you hadn’t paid for the apples.”
Mr. Peabody’s eyebrows went up a little, and he felt a warm breeze blow across his face. “It doesn’t matter what it looked like. What matters is the truth.”
Tommy looked down at his shoes, and said,”I am so sorry. What can I do to make things better, now?”
Mr. Peabody took a deep breath, looked up at a small cloud that was in the sky, and said, “I’ll tell you what, Tommy. Meet me at the baseball diamond in one hour, and bring a pillow stuffed with feathers.”
He complies, and on the breezy baseball diamond, they cut the pillow and the feathers swirl and scatter in the wind. Mr. Peabody then instructs Tommy to pick up all the feathers.
“I don’t think it’s possible to pick up all the feathers,” Tommy replied.
“It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done by spreading the rumor that I am a thief,” said Mr. Peabody. “Each feather represents a person in Happville.”
There was a long pause as Tommy began to understand what Mr. Peabody was saying.
Finally, he said, “I guess I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
Mr. Peabody smiled and said, “Indeed, you do. Next time, don’t be so quick to judge a person. And remember the power of your words.”
Creative Steps has clearly won their fight against the Valley Club. They don’t need to file a lawsuit to prove the quickness to judge and the power of words. That point has already been made and proven. Meanwhile, the children of the camp are “permanently scarred” and the children of the Valley Club’s president, who has offered to resign, have reportedly been sent out of town in concern for their safety. The reputation of The Valley Club, its members (past and present), and even the community of Huntingdon Valley, have all been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably.
And how, exactly, will Creative Steps’ lawsuit solve any perceived racial and ethnic tensions? Because Huntingdon Valley is a community that borders Northeast Philadelphia, a section of the city that is home to many ethnicities – African-Americans, Russians, you name it. After the cameras disappear, and after people have let their public-relations guard down, things will not improve. In fact, I’m of the opinion that a lawsuit that results in the closure of The Valley Club will only be detrimental to race relations in that community.
It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done …
How very true. For all the Billys and Tommys and Mr. Peabodys involved in the Valley Club/Creative Steps imbroglio, this is really a lesson that doesn’t need to involve lawyers, guns, and money. There are other options, ones that could harbor in more healing. Allow this instead to represent what it really is and can be – a turning point for all of us, a reminder to not be so quick to judge, and to always remember the power of our words.