As the Executive Director and owner of the only travel and learning adventure program of its kind in the nation for girls 11-16, you can probably only imagine the questions and comments I hear from people when I tell them about my program that reaches out to diverse girls, aims to give them a world view through travel, takes them exclusively to waterfront locations, and encourages social and environmental engagement. "Wow! That's fantastic!" - "How much is it?" - "Is there a camp like this for boys?" - "Is there a camp like this for adults?" - "Oh, I would never let my daughter go that far without me." - "I don't let my daughter go to camp." - and the list goes on. And while I am fully dedicated and passionate about this program, I find myself having to continually combat issues of overparenting, parental fear and lack of trust, so the program is growing at a slower pace than I would like. I will not, however, ever give up.
Right now, CampCaribe 2011 - OBG Adventure Camps' Spring excursion to the US Virgin Islands - is in its final 3 days of an 11 day adventure and I was unable to make the trip. Naturally, I am heartbroken. (See When Being Flexible Isn't About Doing the Splits.) I am grateful beyond words, however, for my brilliant staff members, Alley & Mary, who are both qualified lifeguards, excellent role models, and all-around great women. Now...for the interesting part.
Every day, I email a surprise Activity Plan to my staff. One day they're on a day trip to the British Virgin Islands for a dolphin encounter (pictured below) and the next day they're snorkeling the Underwater Snorkel Trail at Trunk Bay. Tomorrow, the girls are going sailing, one of my favorite things to do in the world. When I was calling around to make the arrangements, I was very careful to skip over the sailing charter company I used for CampCaribe 2010.
You see, last year, the female boat captain (who I thought would be a great role model since she had an all-female crew) told me that Black people were prone to sink in the water and couldn't swim very well because of dense bone structure. Oh really? I asked her if she was looking at Alley or me while we were in the water. (No response.) With an appropriate tone, I told her that she believed an outdated myth and that she was wrong. Unfortunately, she was adamant and not willing to bend. She based her beliefs on a report she read, she told me. Also, an instructor she believed in backed her up, and her experience teaching water safety to Black firemen in the Virgin Islands resulted in them sinking and unable to float. I told her I knew what report she read and that it was an inaccurate report from a long time ago. (Please see The Negro and Learning to Swim). I remember asking her if it might be possible that the gentlemen she was training simply didn't have good swimming ability or skills. Some people are better swimmers than others, I told her. She did not believe me. What a shame.
I never shared this conversation with the girls and I don't plan to. Just like I didn't share with them that upon looking at my group of Brown Girls last year, some people asked me: "Are these girls at risk?" #deepsigh I am simply sharing this story in a space that likely understands my frustration. Overall, there continues to be this inaccurate notion that people of color are different in a way that doesn't allow them to excel in certain areas and I'm here to say that it isn't true. I am aware of the statistics and know that many people of color are behind in swimming ability, but I believe that it is due to fear, lack of training and lack of resources.
It just so happens that all of my girls are African-American this session, so I'm probably a bit sensitive about where I send them sailing. At my last mini-camp (houseboat camp on Lake Shasta), most were African-American, a few girls were biracial, one was Mexican-American and one was Filipina (see Bella fly in the photo above LOL). I simply adore progressive parents who aren't afraid to mix it up. No matter their cultural backgrounds or level of swimming ability, however, none of my Adventurers were afraid of the water and none of them had bones dense enough to make them sink. #sothere
Tomorrow, my girls are going sailing with a crew from Sail Safaris and they don't believe the "dense bones" hype - which for me means the energy of the trip will be fantastic! I can't wait to see the photos and hear about what a wonderful time they had...sailing, snorkeling...and yes, swimming without sinking into the Caribbean sea.