• english
  • spanish

Cullen JonesI wrote a couple of days ago a post about our experience at our local swimming pool. At that time I didn’t make a connection between race and swimming, but today when I took Feromsa to his swimming lesson, while I was waiting and watching him in the water, something clicked in my mind.
I noticed that he is the only black kid in the whole pool, and let me say that the swimming pool is quite full of children of all ages.
How could that be? I know that the neighborhood is mainly white, but not THAT white… Simply there are no black children learning to swim, even when it is such an important skill.
When I got home I started to look for info on the internet about black swimmers and I read about the sad statistics that 60% of African American children don’t know how to swim.
There are many reasons for that, most of them related with the past of slavery, segregation and poverty. After many generations of not being able to access swimming pools, it has become a sort of a bad habit that keeps passing from parents to children. Since parents never learned to swim, it is only logic that they passed their fears and lack of knowledge of the activity to their children. 
The most tragic part of the statistics is that black children are more likely to drown than white children.
Now I get the surprise of the little white girl when she saw Feromsa in his swimming shorts. It’s probable that she has never seen so much dark skin before! Maybe it wasn’t the first time she saw a black kid, but probably it was the first time seeing a black kid in shorts learning to swim.
But there is a long history of black swimmers, from the first slaves brought from Africa to America to the recent black Olympic swimmers like Gold medalist Cullen Jones.
Jones is trying to change the statistics by becoming personally involved in teaching black children how to swim. He is the founder of the program Make a Splash which teaches minority children this important skill. His personal story is also an example of how far a child can get when supported by parents and community. After almost drowning as a child, Cullen Jones instead of never getting into the water again, was encouraged by his parents and teachers to learn how to swim, with so much success that he ended up winning an Olympic Gold Medal in 2008!

I can’t tell you how many stereotypes, racist jokes, and plain ignorance I encountered while I was researching this subject.
I’m going to do my best to help my children learn how to swim. So far, Feven and Feromsa love the water. Who knows, maybe one of them will become an Olympic swimmer.

Related articles:

Why Don’t More Black Children Swim? (NPR)
60% of urban African-American children can’t swim, survey says - GBM News
Cullen Jones helps minorities swim out of deep end - MSNBC
Tough swim through stereotypes for African-Americans
African-American swim club celebrates 50 years - USA TODAY
Rich History of African American Swimmers Recognized
The International Swimming Hall of Fame: Celebrate Black Swimming History
”Black Splash” honors African-American swimmers
 Is race a factor in sports success? The Guardian UK