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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Activist Bernard Wright is suing Boynton Beach, claiming it's discriminating against black children by barring them from using the Carolyn Sims Center while it hosts summer day camps that are beyond the financial reach of low-income families who live nearby.
"The recreation center should be free and open to these children all year round," Wright said on Tuesday, less than a week after the discrimination lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court. "It's racist to the bone."
In the lawsuit, attorney Dameka Davis claims Boynton Beach has violated federal anti-discrimination laws in several ways. It hiked the price of the summer camp, made it difficult for families to receive scholarships for their children to defray the costs and then locked out kids whose parents couldn't afford to pay the $550 fee for the eight-week camp.
Two weeks ago, a small group of parents and children gathered outside the recreation center on Northwest 12th Avenue waving signs proclaiming "Justice For Children" to protest the city's policies.
Since the city receives federal and state money, it can't discriminate, Davis said. The various actions, she said, have a disproportionate impact on those who live near the center. The neighborhood is 36 percent black and the average income is less than $50,000 a year.
Mayor Steven Grant said he is well aware of the statistics. He said he would love to be able to offer free day care to all city residents, but it's not financially feasible.
The price is a bargain compared to the costs of attending camps offered by Palm Beach County, the school system and other municipalities, he said. The fees for other camps are as high as $1,200.
"There's no other day care that has that price point," Grant said. In an attempt to be family-friendly, the city also allows kids under the age of 12 to use the municipal pool for free, he said.
Wally Majors, director of parks and recreation for the city, said about 20 of Boynton's 300 campers received full scholarships through a county-run program.
Those who aren't involved in the summer camps are blocked from the center as a safety precaution, Majors said. "When you have that type of environment, it's very difficult — and honestly, not safe — to allow people to come in (when day camp is underway)," he said. "It's just not safe."
Davis argues that it's not safe for kids to have no place to go during the long summer months. "If kids are not there, they're on the street doing God knows what," she said.
In the lawsuit, she is asking a federal judge to force the city to open the center to those not in summer camp, to reduce the cost and to make scholarship information readily available. She is also seeking an unspecified amount in damages for Wright and his 7-year-old grandson.
Wright, who is a minister, said he has organized an informal day camp for kids whose parents can't afford the one offered by the city at Sims. On Tuesday, he said some 65 children attended.
Grant said he is working to help struggling families. "We're trying to do what we can for the disenfranchised community," he said.
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