Want to reduce high minority drowning rates? Ensure pool access

| May 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

Anyone who thinks prejudice isn’t a serious issue in the United States should read a recent news story from Minneapolis. The story details one African American woman’s efforts to get a swimming pool built in her neighborhood. Tragically, the day after the pool was finally approved, a young black man drowned nearby.

Sad as that story is, similar events recur around the nation every year as years of prejudice, misunderstanding and outright lies continue to keep African Americans from swimming, just as surely as “white only” public swimming pools did before the Civil Rights era.

Cullen Jones swimming class

Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones is one of many who work to ensure equal access to swimming pools for people of color in America. From BCRP.

The result is an ugly and still little-known truth about water safety in America today: African American children are up to three times more likely to drown than whites, and 70% don’t know how to swim.

As editor of Aquatics International, I helped shine a light on the issue with the first report about the disparity in swimming skills between minorities and whites, and the history behind it. Since then, I’ve been heartened to see the issue gain national attention in the media and government. In 2012, for instance, CNN named Wanda Butts, a passionate minority swimming advocate, one of its CNN Heroes. Her story, about being raised to be afraid of the water and suffering tragedy when her own son drowned, is far too typical.

Before minority children learn how to swim, however, they often must get past a lot of stereotypes. The biggest one is that blacks just aren’t able to swim – that they can’t even learn how to do it well.

Two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer, Cullen Jones, is a great antidote to those myths. Jones has lent his celebrity to campaigns such as Make a Splash, to help create a new generation of minority swimmers — and reverse minority drowning statistics. Jones is a particularly effective motivator for young minorities not just because of his star power, but also because he nearly drowned when he was five years old.

But you don’t have to be a swimming star to make a difference. The next time you hear someone spout stereotypes about minorities and swimming, set the record straight: Blacks, Latinos, and every other race or ethnic group is just as capable of swimming as whites, if given a chance.

As the new story from Minneapolis reminds us, access to swimming pools is one of the biggest challenges minority children face in learning how to swim — and closing another sad chapter on the legacy of prejudice in America.

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Category: Pools, Safety

About the Author

Gary Thill is the former editor of Aquatics International, an award-winning magazine for the commercial pool and waterpark markets. He is a nationally recognized writer and editor with an extensive communications background that includes print, online and social media.
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