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Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.

From The New York Times:

Her Parents Thought Swimming Lessons Were a Good Idea

Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.…

Former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka

Good video about former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka


Can African Americans Swim Well Enough to Save Themselves?

Culturally speaking, most African American men and women do not swim well enough to save themselves, and for those who can swim, most do not participate in organized water sport activities. Why is this? Can the culture of non-swimmers be reversed? How?

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Earl, thank you for pointing out something I should have said earlier that even though folks like USA Swimming (whom I'm no fan of) have their Make-A-Splash programs all around the country, the majority are run by folks who are not African American or Latino.


It is simply due to the fact that we do not have many people of color who are coaches and teachers of swimming! Black folks can learn to swim and swim well if given proper coaching. I'm not saying that those who are teaching the kids now are not earnest in their efforts, but I can remember when I learned baseball it was at the hands of a Black man who I could identify with on a personal level and be a bit more open to.

I think it is imperative that there be more coaches and teachers of color. And if USA swimming wants there to be more than the 2-3% of people of color in their ranks then they better start getting more coaches who these young people can identify with. I truly believe shared history is important and that we need to focus on more coaching, closer facilities in or near our neighborhoods, and to make sure that people know this is a life skill first and foremost.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jennifer Galvin's documentary "Free Swim" on Super Bowl Sunday and I was moved by the fact that these children in the Bahamas were learning to swim and some of the adults as well. But what really struck me was seeing the children teach each other, empowering each other that's the key!!!!!!!

I have a drive in me to teach anyone who wishes to learn. I'd love to have several kids over the course of the next ten years who start thinking about swimming The English Channel, The Strait of Gibraltar, The Cook Strait, Beagle Channel, The Maui Channel and so many more.

My goodness, we have been swimming in open water since the 1400s at least and taught White folks how to swim in the 1800s at the earliest. I remember a photo of a slave ship and the way Africans were "stored" in the hulls. I remember a professor once told me, they chained them down - of course - so they couldn't riot or get at their captors, but also because if they didn't chain them down the slaves would simply jump overboard and swim away!

I'm hoping we can return to our roots as great open water swimmers and swimmers in general. I hope we can have coaches whose names when we mention them will be known throughout the swimming community. Sure we have Jim Ellis, Lee Pitts, Jr., Ron Chism, Shaun Anderson and the like. But if you say their names you mostly get blank stares. However mention the name bob Bowman, Eric Salo, Dick Jochums, or Penny Lee Dean and folks inthe swimming community nod their heads and say, "Oh yeah him/her I know about them."

This needs to change and the sooner it does, i think the more we will see Black folks swimming and swimming well.

Just my own thoughts on th subject. I apologize for rambling on.
I didn't want to believe that segregation played such a role in our generational non-swimming. Then I asked my husband, who grew up in the South in the 70s and 80s. He remembers being turned away from a pool during that time.

I can see how this would be just as effective as making reading for slaves illegal. So, I agree that we should not blame the victim. This system is not our fault. It is our responsibility, though; nobody cares about our children and our future like we do. We must put in the hard work to make our generations swimmers. How can we do that?
Ramble on, Brother, your thoughts are pure. It will take mucho cultivation and mind conditioning to get us back to the roots you referenced. It can change, just keep your eye on the prize. And you are right, we were good open water swimmers before we discovered the swimming pool. And thank you for the history lesson, I won't forget it.
Well, Angela, most of us who grew up in the south had no pool to go to after 1960. There were exceptions. I knew the pool director at Camp Leroy Johnson (defunct Army Air Force base, now the home of the University of New Orleans) in New Orleans; he was a Brother. When I was in high school, he would let me and my friends swim when the pool was not used or occupied. This was a military base. Forget being turned away, there were simply no pools to swim in except the private ones, and we knew our place back then. And you are right, the system at the time was not our fault. Today we have choices, and I say it is better to forgive the past and move forward, but do not forget it, lest it creep up on you again. It is our responsibility to pick up the pieces and to make it better, to make it right, and be the better person for it.
Access, Robeson, access! How many quality African-American swim coaches do you know? And quality swim teachers? And who is training them? Are you following the thread of this discussion amongst the participants to glean their ideas? There are swimming pools all around us, and many of these are located on the campuses of HBCU's in the south. There is a swimming pool at Hampton University and Norfolk State University right here in Hampton Roads. But is there true quality access and utilization of these facilities? You touched upon it through your idea of a social movement using college presidents, churches, etc. You are heading in a very positive direction. But what do I know? Well, I don't know, what do you think?
How many times have you tried to talk to black folks about swimming, only to be shut down with a remark like, "I can't swim, so I stay away from the water!"

How do you get it across that that attitude is wrong? Not to mention unwise? How many more people have to drown because they won't even consider learning how to swim? I guess that's the whole question you put forth in the first place, Erroll. Forgive me for being redundant. Just a tad frustrated. . .
Hmm-mm-m! This is hard, very hard to do. Our folks who don't know their history of great ocean swimming, as pointed out by Naji, just don't get it. I will go one up on you. I have heard from "our tribe" that swimming is for White folks . . . you ever hear this? When our daughter attended Hampton University, where I was the Director of Aquatics, she pledged a sorority, whose name shall remain nameless at this point. She was given the nickname "Average White Girl" (amongst others) by her big sisters. Why? She was a trained lifeguard, WSI, swam competitively on an age-group team, and was a certified scuba diver, plus she knew how to ski. Well, I was furious, prepared to get THESE women thrown off-campus (I had the goods on them), but decided to keep my cool after a soul-searching discussion with my wife, who is also a member of said sorority, and said nothing. You are simply not going to change these die hard attitudes, these folks will take it to the grave with them. Our job is to teach, not preach, and it must start somewhere. I also like what Naji said about selected sports favored by Black folks, "You don't die dunking a basketball, and you don't die when you run the perfect pass route. But you do die in a swimming pool if you accidentally slip into deep water unprepared to save your life. And you will die if the fishing boat you are on becomes swamped by a big boat wave, and you are not wearing a PFD, and don't know how to swim." I will adddress your concerns a little later. I am waiting to hear what others may have to say. Do not give up on the Brothers and Sisters - they will eventually hear your message.
Dr. Duplessis:

For starters, we know what the problems are. Blame is just not helpful (self or others) its just not helpful. Let's talk about solutions. You mentioned access there are plenty of facilities available. If we can get community leaders to apply pressure, those facilities can be encourage to remain open during better hours. While we (concerned African Americans) can focus on recruiting African American swimming students with the goal of long term change, at this point it would be self defeating to limit our teachers and coaches to strictly being African American. Taking lessons lends its self to being on swim team, lends its self to becoming a lifeguard and then instructor and coach. Along the way skills develop and people keep those skills for the rest of their lives. The immediate benefit is that fewer African Americans students/children will drown. The long term benefit, just like in population demographics, is that in one or two generations we will be able to teach ourselves and others. In other words their will be more African American swim instructors and coaches with open minds and hearts (just like MLK would want it). The number African Americans instructors and coaches will grow. All of this depends on African Americans keeping their eyes on the prize (Jesse Jackson), in homes and families, neighborhoods and communities, and institutions.

Next I would think about how we should package this to get active participation in the form of programs from various organizations such as schools, Red Cross, YMCA, churches, city governments. This kind of civil rights reform will require people like you and others on this board to step up and be heard. I'm ready to start a petition and apply pressure. Do you know of any other academics who are ready to do the same? We have to be determine not to stop until it's done, and by that I mean other people from generations following us pick up the torch and run further.

I was greatly encourage from what I saw this past weekend. I went to the Black History Swim Meet in D.C. From my observation I saw about 20-35 African American coaches. I wonder has anybody started an African American Coaches Swim Instructors Association, club, or professional organization? That might be a start. I look forward to some responses. I think I know what we need to do.
You are truly on the path. A swimming association will be an excellent vehicle to turning things around. But does "African-American" have to be used in the name, as though it were some sort of code for a specific audience? Just asking. All in all, this idea is definitely needed and will certainly help develop African-American swim coach professionals (men and women) on a larger scale, which does not exist except for a few small pockets around the country. And a showcase swimming event, like the Black History Swim Meet in DC, is an awesome event to do each year for obvious reasons. We also need to do more master swim coach clinics. I am glad to know that you saw 25-30 African-American coaches doing their thing in this event; sorry I missed it. How many swimmers were entered in the meet? And were most from the east coast, or scattered from all over the country?

I will suggest a few other strategies to galvanize folks a little later. For now, keep it coming, you seem to know the direction this discussion is headed.
I am back, had to take care of a few things. I like the idea of organizing a functional swimming association; it gives credability to the profession and the professional. How does the National Association of Swimming Instructors (NASI) sound to you? As I previously said, this is an excellent vehicle to reach a small niche of swim teachers and coaches who are already involved with the sport and DAP. But this is preaching to the choir. In order to reach the core of African-American families, we will need to do more than give lip service to what is already being done.

When Diversity in Aquatics can get Wanda Butts to stand in front of all the ministers at the Black Family Conference held at Hampton University each year, we will have reached an audience that needs to understand the importance of swimming. Her story is so compelling, and the Josh Project must be explained to a larger audience for it to be felt. I hope that Mrs. Butts is receptive to this idea.

When Diversity in Aquatics can convince the college and university presidents of every HBCU that has a swimming pool the importance of promoting community-based learn-to-swim and competition level swimming programs, then change will surely begin to happen.

When Diversity in Aquatics can survey the HBCU's to determine location of swimming facilities, planning can begin.

When Diversity in Aquatics can implement a plan to fund or find funding sources for some of these ideas, then swimming will surely grow in the African-American communities. Remember, people need to understand a reason why swimming is so important. Life skills for survival is but one; how about training to become lifeguards for summer employment, or swimming scholarships for college.

Hampton University hosts the largest Black Ministers Conference world-wide, and this venue must be considered an important link to promote the importance of swimming to the people who need it the most; when this happens, change will follow.

Access to swimming is more than a pool with water in it. It embodies the mind-set of long-standing negative attitudes towards swimming. Remember, access means quality teaching and coaching as well as quality facilities. Many HBCU's have the facilities, but do they all have the quality teaching and coaching to go with it? I think not.

I believe you were headed in this direction, Robeson. Thank you for the inspiration to touch it up a little bit more.
Dr. Duplessis:

I. How many swimmers were entered in the meet? about 300-400

And were most from the east coast, or scattered from all over the country? Because of the weather most of the teams were from the east coast (New York to Florida) and a strong team from Detroit, Michigan.

II.National Association of Swimming Instructors (NASI), I will do a google/bing search to see if this already exists. We could always tack on "and Coaches". So it could be NASI or NASIC. Then, within the mission statement, justification,and long term goals we could focus on making professional swimming instruction and organized swimming opportunities available to Traditionally underprivileged youth, those who have been discourage from swimming in the past, for one reason or another.

II. Thanks to Diversity in Aquatics, maybe Shaun could have it connected with this web site as an added feature. Why not? We would have to: set association membership qualifications; establish a membership data base; applications; membership cards, etc. Now I have a feeling like this is essential to what happening here on Diversity in Aquatics, however this could be specifically directed, like a lazar beam, at instructors and coaches. This approach could bring more money from public and private sources into Diversity in Aquatics web site and those local programs. Just as a thought, if this was an extension of Diversity in Aquatics we issue special executives cards to instructors and coaches and this pushes the envelope of knowledge. That way we could hand out certificates to pools that comply with Diversity in Aquatics/NASI programs. The more I think about it this would be an extension of Diversity in Aquatics where instructors or coaches and membership card are issued you must conduct a program once a year and recruit an instructor every year or two. The programs conducted can be used to get more public and private growth and thus conduct more programs. That takes care of funding and access by creating a cycle. I have exhausted all the possibilities I can think about on this thread. Lets get some other input from Naji and Angela or anybody out there that has been reading this thread. I'm done...
Angela, Earl is right this is a very difficult question to answer, but it needs to be answered. When I hear folks say that "I can't swim so I stay away from the water," I try to get them to see that is just not possible on a planet that is comprised of 75% of what they are trying to get away from. Ever been on an airplane before? Well I can guarantee that you will be flying over water at some point and although flying has one of the lowest statistics for accidents, we all remember the brave pilot who had to land his plane on the Hudson I believe to save his passengers. Now they had the life-rafts and all but suppose they didn't inflate and some of the PDF's floated away, now what?

You know, we will always have issues with those whose mindset is still in the "Black folks don't swim" world, but we need to inform them and encourage them nonetheless. This is where I bring up our storied history. How we were some of the greatest swimmers in the world long ago. How we were doing the front crawl long before the Aussies made up the name (see Bruce Wigo's video on that). How we taught slave owners and their families how to swim. That before the modern Coast Guard was set up its precursor was The Life Saving Service and that one of the most respected and successful station's of this organization (Station 17 on Pea Island North Carolina) was run by an all Black crew, headed by Richard Ethridge.

I keep coming back to our history because I am reminded of what brother Malcolm X was quoted as saying, "Of all of our studies, history is the one best suited to reward our research."

I fear that those with the attitude to stay away from the water will learn the hard way by having a loved one drown. I don't want that to happen and neither do any of you. Robson, Angela, Earl your all correct, access is needed, well trained coaches are essential, an organization that we can all sign on to is a stroke of genius Robson and Earl and I will participate in anyway I can to make it so. We just have to incorporate history along with aquatic skills, maybe incorporate them into the programs that those in the association could impart.

I'm rambling now - as always - but I'm very excited about the ideas that are coming together on this. If any of you wish to contact me further inbox me and I'll give you my private email and phone.


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