Dear Ms. Yarborough,
Just a week ago, my family was walking on air. Our daughter Julia, who has Down Syndrome, worked really hard, took private lessons with an amazing coach, and was told she was ready to be on the beginner's swim team at the City of Charleston's Martin Luther King Jr. Pool. She went from having a barely recognizable stroke to learning crawl stroke, back stroke, and even butterfly.
Julia has swum before, in aquatic therapy and in Special Olympics, but this was the first time she was deemed "good enough" to be on a team full of neurotypical children. She was excited for her first practice; she told all of her friends and teachers that she made the "swim team." And, if I might say so myself, she nailed it.
She joyfully attended two practices, after which we were told that, due to staffing issues, Julia's team would be cut.
Here's the thing: I know we are in a pandemic, I know there are staffing issues, but the SMRT team (mostly white kids who mostly don't live in the low-income area surrounding the city's Martin Luther King Pool, where all of these kids practice) is not being cut. Lap swimming, again populated mostly by people who do not live in the low-income neighborhood surrounding the pool, is not being cut.
What is being cut? A program that actually caters to children who might not have some of these opportunities. Julia's new (now cancelled) team is racially diverse; there is a diversity of body types, and they were willing to accept Julia even though she might swim more slowly and take a bit to process directions.
Look at these kids--
Can you tell which one my daughter is?
That's because they are all friends- a variety of ages, body types, races, abilities, all working together.
I find it very ironic that the Martin Luther King pool, built in a low-income area and named after an icon of racial and social equality, is set to become a homogenous space filled with lap swimmers and SMRT swimmers who, again, do not represent the diversity of the area in which the pool what built...or the social justice attitude of the man after which it was named.
To be very clear, I have been told that this was not the pool manager's decision, but the decision of the City of Charleston. To that end, I would like to ask Charleston Athletics to reconsider this choice. One boy on the team comes all the way from Summerville because the coach saw promise in him, took him on for lessons, and invited him to the team. One young girl has basically made the pool her home-away-from-home, and I've seen her confidence skyrocket. All of these kids have so much potential, and they all just need an extra push.
We are living through a pandemic, staffing everywhere is low, and sacrifices need to be made, but I don't think asking our families--and only our families--to sacrifice is the answer.
For Julia and for all of these kids who have embraced her, made her finally feel like a part of something, I beg you to reconsider your decision.
Kathleen Béres Rogers