We Don’t Swim

Black people can’t swim.

Black people don’t swim.

I’ve heard those two phrases repeated a thousand times.

And not only in the African-American community.

But in diverse settings.

It’s as if there is some unspoken law that bodies of water are off-limits.

We can hang out on boats, poolside or even at the beach.

But there will be no actual swimming involved.

It’s even become a running joke.

Any comedian (regardless of skin color) can pull of a joke about a black person and water and get laughs.

But like the saying goes,

“It’s all fun and games until somebody get hurts.”

And that’s exactly what happened this past summer.

6 beautiful African-American children drowned in Shreveport Louisiana.

And if the drownings weren’t enough to break our hearts.

The story behind the drownings completely floors me.

One child was in danger of drowning;

Six others attempted to assist him (with one making it back to shore safely);

And a crowd of parents, adults and other children stood by.

Now why would parents and adults just stand by and watch their children drown? 

Because they couldn’t swim.

Not one of them had enough swim experience to even attempt to save that first child.

And the consequence:

Six children died.

As a parent I cannot begin to imagine what was going through the minds of those who stood on that shore.

Or even come close to understanding what it must have felt like to watch loved ones perish.

But I can say that as a parent, it is my responsibility to ensure that my child is prepared for life.

Prepared in any and every way possible.

And I personally strive to live up to that responsibility.

For that reason, my son has taken swimming lessons 4 of the 7 3/4 years of his life.

It wasn’t cheap and I am in no way rich.

We are a single income household.

But living in Southern California, surrounded by beaches, lakes and pools;

I realized the importance.

And sacrificed so that we could afford them.

Beyond the swimming lessons,

I give my son ample opportunity to practice his newly developed skills.

Practice makes perfect.

And when it comes to swimming,

Practice doesn’t just make perfect, it saves lives.

10 thoughts on “We Don’t Swim

  1. Ronnie – This is such an important message! I was at a lake when something similar happened – a grandparent (who couldn’t swim) drowned trying to save the life of grankdiks who couldn’t swim. I live that day over all of the time, wishing I (or someone) had been closer to jump in and help. I have some nieces and nephews who can’t swim (and should for their age) – it scares me to death!

    • Paige it has always scared me as well. It really is an epidemic in the black community and I just hope more parents realize that if they are going to let their children enjoy activities around water then it’s their duty to make sure they can swim.

  2. Ronnie, my local news just had a spot on this about a month ago. Harlem community centers are encouraging older teens and college students in the black community who can swim well to volunteer as teachers to younger children. The idea is that if black children grow up understanding how to both respect the water and also have fun in it, drownings well be less of a trend in this culture.

    I wish I could find a link to the spot, but unfortunately I can’t! But your post will definitely help spread awareness.

    • Thanks for the info Nicole (even without a link it will give people something to google). I think the community centers in Harlem have a good idea. I wonder if something similar is being tried here in So Cal? Gotta look around for some info.

  3. npr talk of the nation discussed this yesterday. I wish I could have called in but I was driving. I just learned to swim earlier this year. It was a goal for this year. Mainly never did b/c my mom didn’t know how to swim so she didn’t really take us and in my town growing up we only had the Y and an expensive swim club as options. I made sure to start my daughter in Mommy & me classes as soon as she was old enough to walk. After 9 yrs I can finally join her. Part of was just me saying I’m going to do it, and to get over the fear, but I did have an excellent teacher at an adult class at a San Francisco pool.

    Great post.

  4. I am a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, and here, we require all people, regardless of skin color (because that’s what Equal Opportunity REALLY is) to be ALBE to at least swim to safety. We call it drown-proofing, and we are required to wear all of our gear and jump off the high dive with our weapons.

    When someone in the Army drowns, we at least know that we taught them how to swim.

  5. Sad but true! My mother feared water and never learned how to swim. Her mother couldn’t swim either. My siblings and I took swim lessons at school, but I always had to be present in the backyard when my younger siblings swam in our pool because she could not help them if they got in trouble. I cannot tell you how many relatives I pulled out of that pool growing up because they got beyond the shallow end and practically drowned for not knowing how to swim.

    • This actually happened recently to my uncle. He was supervising a pool party where all of the teens said they knew how to swim. Well one of the boys starts to get into some trouble. Now this boy was at least 6 foot tall and if he would have just stood up, he would have been fine. But in his panic, he couldn’t even do that. My uncle had to jump in and pull him out. I am very strict about the if you can’t swim then you can not be near the water because it’s too easy for someone to get hurt.

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