It was a beautiful summer day to celebrate the re-opening of the Davey Lopes Recreation Center pool in South Providence on Monday, June 30. Community leaders, residents and reporters flocked to the newly renovated pool on Dudley Street to congratulate each other on a hard fight won by a team effort. One of these fighters was Leah Williams Metts. She spearheaded the fight to keep the Davey Lopes pool open when Mayor Angel Taveras planned to close and demolish the site at the beginning of last summer.
Metts, named one of Providence Monthly’s ‘10 To Watch’ in January, is a court-appointed special advocate volunteer and serves on multiple boards, including the NAACP. She has seen a lot of action recently in yet another role: as a co-chair of the Davey Lopes Recreation Center Alumni Board. The super-activist sprung into action when the city closed the pool due to poor attendance, structural issues and increasing costs. Metts was a lifeguard and swim coach at this pool at one time, another reason the closing of this pool resonated with her. Knowing that the threat of violence coupled with record heat would leave kids with little opportunity to do something positive in the summer, Metts rallied for this cause by talking to whoever would listen – the City of Providence, the State House and with senators and council members. She used social media to spread the word and soon the residents of South Providence, whose lives have been shaped by that pool, came together around her. The real testament to her efforts came this May, when Alpha Omega industrial services began performing repairs after months of waiting and conflict.
Seeing the full pool, Metts says, “feels so amazing, I’m so overwhelmed with emotion, Icannot wait to see the kids swimming… last year it was very depressing; it was just concrete, and the kids were just getting wet with a hose at the side of an empty pool… and now we have water.” She cites her mentors, including Frank Caprio, Ray Rickman and Brett Smiley as sources of encouragement and acknowledges the solidarity of the South Side neighborhood – a community that came together before to build the Billy Taylor House. “A lot of people made this happen, not just me… it was a lot of community support, and I just want to thank everybody that’s involved,” she says.
Councilman Davian Sanchez led the press conference at noon. Metts’ cousin, RI Senator Harold Metts, joined treasurer Gina Raimondo, Police Chief Hugh Clements and others at the podium to share his appreciation for the pool and the unity that made it possible. He has swam there since he was 12, and used his job as a janitor at Davey Lopes to buy his college books. “Let’s do it for the kids… that’s why we’re here,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many that the pool is dedicated to the future of its young swimmers. After a ribbon cutting, it wasn’t the kids who got into the water first – multiple city officials made a splash in jackets and ties, quickly followed by ecstatic members of the crowd.
The future looks bright. Not only do the kids of South Providence have a brand new pool to splash in, but there is a new swim commission, free swim lessons, plenty of life vests and four lifeguards to help realize the ultimate goals of safety and swimming skill. Thanks to Metts’ dedication in South Providence and the support buoying her, kids will continue to use the pool safely and give them a healthy environment to learn and grow.