Ebony Rosemond is the founder of Black Kids Swim.
While police murders of blacks sometimes grab front page attention, the black lives lost to drowning are largely overlooked.
In the wealthy, predominantly black county of Prince George, not a single elementary, middle or high school has a swimming pool. Nonetheless, Sean Barbour, a recent graduate of DeMatha High School, broke records as a member of the Theresa Banks Swim Club’s 200 QN relay team and is now a freshman at La Salle University. . Absalom Bolling, a student at the new boys-only high school Ron Brown College in northeast Washington, is ranked 18th in the 200-meter butterfly at Potomac Valley Swimming, one of the most competitive swimming groups in the country. Barbour, Bolling and other black swimmers win scholarships to private high schools and universities.
But what’s normal in the suburbs of Washington is a rarity in neighborhoods across the United States. More often than not, a black child will be the only member of a team of over 100 swimmers, like Sydney Hearn, who swims for the Sylvania Tsunami Swim Club in Ohio. USA Swimming, the national sports organization body, has some 337,000 members, of which only 1.3% are black.
Today, nearly 60 years after the Jim Crow laws that barred African Americans from accessing safe pools and swimming areas were abolished, many children still never get a chance to swim. Municipalities often prefer inexpensive water parks to pools in black neighborhoods, but no one learns how to avoid drowning in a water park. The historic separation of African Americans from swimming pools is an issue that plagues the elite world of competitive swimming. Despite the Olympic gold medal won by Simone Manuel last summer, only three of the 45 swimmers on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team were black. And of 107 historically black colleges and universities, none have a working 50-meter pool. Howard University is the only HBCU with a competitive swim team. With few role models and rare opportunities to swim, too many black children see swimming as an unapproachable and uninviting sport.
The inability to swim prevents black children from being qualified for a variety of summer jobs and career opportunities, from lifeguards and camp counselors to college coaches and water sports directors for municipalities.
Stereotypes suggest that black people don’t want to swim because they can’t float, are afraid of water, and will do anything to avoid getting their hair wet. These widely held negative stereotypes are literally killing us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children drown at 5.5 times the rate of other children. And in the United States, where 10 people drown every day, that’s a lot of black lives lost.
Weeks before African-American swimmers Manuel, Lia Neal and Anthony Ervin won Olympic medals, a Red Cross poster “Be Cool, Follow the Rules” showed white children “following” the rules in a swimming pool while that black children were breaking the rules. My group, Black Kids Swim, opposed the unbalanced portrayal on social media and the poster went viral. The Red Cross has since apologized to donors and called on various groups to remove the poster. This poster reinforced the long-held idea that black people are still not welcome in swimming pools.
The Red Cross is teaching millions of Americans to swim. Yet today, 70 percent of African Americans lack basic swimming skills. In addition, the Red Cross centenary campaign, tasked with training 50,000 new swimmers in areas with some of the highest drowning rates in the country, does not record the race of participants. How can the Red Cross seriously reduce drowning rates in the black community if it doesn’t hold itself accountable?
The black community needs to focus on getting more children into the water. Black Kids Swim was founded in 2015 to do just that. We offer information and support to help parents and children overcome what has kept black people from swimming – teaching parents how to register their children for a swim team and answering questions about a sport that has had little. of patterns for black children. As our community grows, we plan to sponsor children to take lessons and join swim clubs.
We shouldn’t keep losing our lives because we can’t swim.