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 When I was 11 years old we had a pool in our projects and every summer it was packed. I was getting tall enough that I could stand on the deep end (6 ft) and the water would only reach to my nose.

  At 14, I went to my high school pool, which was in the basement to learn to swim. Almost drowned, had a divine experience that rescued me, but it kept me from the pool for a good seven or eight years.

  At 24, I was stationed in Germany and finally took a Red Cross course for adults to learn how to swim. When I finally got over my fears of the deep end you couldn't keep me out of there. I kept diving and surfacing till I had to get out of the pool for the next class.

  So when I saw this report I guess I am one of the lucky few in my community to actually be able to learn to swim.

Nearly 60 percent of African-American children can't swim, almost twice the figure for white children, according to a first-of-its-kind survey which USA Swimming hopes will strengthen its efforts to lower minority drowning rates and draw more blacks into the sport.

 This may not seem important to some or a political bombshell, but I think this is significant in many ways. Too often inner city kids, like me, don't have a safe place to play in the pool and enjoy themselves. Back in the 1970s, in Cleveland (Ohio), I could point out all the pools in the area in the two project regions just around Cuyahoga Community College. Not as much here in Dayton, Ohio, but I'm sure there were some. Today, high crime rate and lack of funding have left a lot of these pools deserted.

 My hope is more people will take the time to fight for this and to really see pools available for inner city kids. Many blacks, if lucky, may get a chance to live out in the suburbs to get to a pool. But I hope and pray families will make the effort to get our children into programs with Red Cross certification and training to learn how to swim properly with a trained lifeguard. This ability to swim is vital in life for you never know when you might need it and can improve your chances if a flood or some situation rises where you need to know how to ride.

More here

Originally posted to Abacab on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:38 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As a longtime fitness swimmer who (10+ / 0-)

    really didn't learn adequate swimming skills until later in life, I second your opinion.  I realize that this is not hot political news, but I do know that rates of inability to swim are much higher for inner city kids and that this is not a good thing.

    There is a movie called Pride that I keep meaning to rent about swim team in West Philly, but I digress . . . Anyone seen it?  It looks kind of sweet.

    •  Abacab - please post a tip jar! (6+ / 0-)

      Thanks for this diary.  Already rec'd but would love to tip.

      Now, go spread some peace, love and understanding. Use force if necessary. - Phil N DeBlanc

      by lineatus on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:51:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Great Diary, Abacab!!! (6+ / 0-)

        This is a very important issue!  Years ago, I was an Upward Bound Counselor w/inner-city kids from Akron and Cleveland, Ohio.  Many of these tough-as-nail street kids were scared to death of the water.

        We had a Grizzled Old White Track Coach who was determined that every one of those kids was going to be able to swim the length of the pool--25 yards--by the end of the summer.  More than once along the way, we had to fish one of these kids--gasping and petrified--from the pool as they swore they just couldn't do it.

        The Coach never relented a whit, and it's one of the best things in the world that ever happened to those kids.  Guess what?  By the end of the summer, every single one of those guys made it the length of the pool.  This is a huge safety issue--thanx for bringing it here!!!

    •   inability to swim higher for inner city kids (3+ / 0-)

      could this be because there isnt really anywhere TO Swim if you go up in the inner city?  

      I would venture that the inability to swim has less to do with 'race' then to do with LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION  because I live a short distance from the atlantic ocean AND a large 'Black community" and it seems most everyone CAN swim where I live, no matter your race creed or color.

      "THE SURGE IS WORKING" is the 2008 replacement for "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED"

      by KnotIookin on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:08:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I learned to swim when I was about 12 (7+ / 0-)

    The older kids pushed me into the deep side of the pool at the Boys Club.

    That was in the 1980's.

    Boys Clubs these days cannot afford to maintain pools.

    John W. McCain, Bush's third term.

    by aaraujo on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:41:47 AM PDT

  •  Oy vey (5+ / 0-)

    Please don't send this link to Rev. Wright. :)

    Congrats for learning how to swim, even at a later age.  Such an essential skill to have, and to people who know how to do it, something that is taken for granted.

  •  Most likely because the parents and grandparents. (10+ / 0-)

    of these children were not allowed to swim in public pools.

    Lest we forget...

    The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. --Thomas Paine

    by David Kroning on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:44:46 AM PDT

  •  Interesting statistics. (7+ / 0-)

    I'm white -- had the good fortune of being thrown into a pool at the age of 3 by my father because he already knew that young children have an inate ability to swim (3 relatives were there to grab me if I sunk).  The pool, however, was segregated -- it was 1953 in Baltimore.

    Besides a life-saving skill, swimming is an opportunity to relieve tension -- it is a skill in which you might only challenge yourself to do better, rather than having to best another.  On so many levels, this is a simple means to help in the development of our young -- especially those who have few other opportunities.

    My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. Barbara Jordan 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:46:17 AM PDT

  •  NYC had a great public pool program. (3+ / 0-)

    Lessons were available if you wanted to learn to swim.
    Of course, I remember being told black kids didn't swim because they hated cold water. I also remember Robert Moses, urban planner, made sure the parkway bridges along long islands south shore were too low to allow buses underneath. That was to keep urban kids from  busing out to the beaches.

    "Are you coming to bed?" "I can't, someone is wrong on Dkos!" - paraphrased from XKCD comics

    by the fan man on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:48:44 AM PDT

  •  could be a school requirement (6+ / 0-)

    In NC, the university system made it a requirement some years ago, faced with an embarassing number of drownings here. It is still a problem, as kids will wade into small ponds and creeks and lakes. It is one truly sensible thing any parent can do. Still, while my county has low cost community pools, not everyone has easy access to lessons.

    I learned as a kid in Texas in a local pool that people raised money to build. When integration came, the town filled it with cement rather than allow integrated swimming. I understand the root causes of this low rate of swimming among African Americans, but still, it is a public safety issue that needs attention.

    The pump don't work 'cause a vandal took the handle.

    by Chun Yang on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:48:45 AM PDT

  •  This is genuinely the sort of thing (7+ / 0-)

    that governments should take responsibility for funding.  Every American should know how to swim and part of our investment in inner cities should include so-called "recreation", particularly of such a clearly life saving nature.  Think of how many more lives might have been saved during Katrina if the African American community had better access to swimming pools and swimming lessons.

    (As an aside, the most elite units in the U.S. military have very disproportionately low numbers of African Americans.  Why?  Do they lack the intellectual capacity?  No.  Do they lack the physical capacity?  No.  Do they lack the psychological stability?  No.  They are just far less likely to be able to swim well enough.)

    WARNING: There is a high probability that the preceding comment is snark. Use your best judgment (hopefully better than Sen. Clinton's or Sen. McCain's).

    by Anarchofascist on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:52:17 AM PDT

    •  Granted, I'm the resident DLCer, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but gvt. funding for swimming lessons is a bit much.

      "[G]lobalization is...increasing the efficiency of resource allocation through stronger capital markets" - Barack Obama

      by burrow owl on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:57:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  How many people die from drowning a year (4+ / 0-)

        What are the benifits for fighting obesity?

        etc etc.

        Sometimes the low cost of a program can have many benifits which end up saving.

        This coming from a former lifeguard and Canadian:)

      •  or perhaps (2+ / 0-)

        gov't funding shouldn't be cut for public pools as it has all over the place. granted there's like a 1 2 a bunch of wars to pay for but swimming is still one of those skills that'd save your life.

        Central PA Kossacks"Obama can hope all over me!" Si se fucking puede!

        by terrypinder on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:05:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Is government funding for (3+ / 0-)

        reading lessons a bit much?  How about government funding for math lessons?

        Impoverished African Americans, particularly in the South, disproportionately live on the most undesirable  lands.  These are often floodplains.  We saw the results of this when Hurricane Katrina hit.  How many lives would swimming lessons have saved?  Not lives "improved", not lives "enriched", but human beings who are now dead who would be alive if this problem had been addressed.

        WARNING: There is a high probability that the preceding comment is snark. Use your best judgment (hopefully better than Sen. Clinton's or Sen. McCain's).

        by Anarchofascist on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:08:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Unless swimming is in the job description, (0+ / 0-)

          I'm gonna have to say math is marginally more important.

          "[G]lobalization is...increasing the efficiency of resource allocation through stronger capital markets" - Barack Obama

          by burrow owl on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:09:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Okay here is a chart of accedental deaths (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            historys mysteries, haruki

            (1) Motor vehicle (MVA) 44.3%
            (2) Falls  17.8%
            (3) Poison,liq/solid  13.0%
            (4) Drowning  3.9%
            (5) Fires, Burns,Smoke  3.4%
            (6) Medical/Surgical Complication  3.1%
            (7) Other land transport  1.5%
            (8) Firearms  0.8%
            (9) Other (nontransport)  17.8%

            Drowning is number 4....higer then fire's medical errors and firearm accidents.  There is a valid reason for funding basic swimming lessons.   Do we pay for fire departments?

          •  I already gave you an example of a "job" where (4+ / 0-)

            African Americans' lack of swimming abilities severely impedes career advancement.  And yes, many black men and women join the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.  And yes, membership in an elite unit can open huge doors of opportunity, not just in the military but beyond.

            While I agree that math skills are more important to more lines of work, the fact that lack of swimming ability can be career limiting in one of the professions that many, many poor African Americans enter to improve their lot in life is not trivial.

            Nor is the fact that this is a life-saving skill.

            WARNING: There is a high probability that the preceding comment is snark. Use your best judgment (hopefully better than Sen. Clinton's or Sen. McCain's).

            by Anarchofascist on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:16:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's also a requirement in many police depts, (2+ / 0-)

              which is one of the many reasons why African Americans are disproportionally (under)represented in law enforcement. To graduate the police academy, you need to know how to swim. Can't swim, can't graduate. Can't swim, you probably don't apply for the position to begin with.

              harry reid: "things are being done." what things?

              by haruki on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:21:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Anecdotally, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              parryander, Anarchofascist

              I can attest to that.  Ages ago, I was in the Navy, and before graduating from boot camp we had to pass a swimming test.  (Also got to learn how to tie up the legs of our dungarees to fashion a nifty flotation device, but I digress.)  I was one of two whites in the "remedial swim lesson" group huddled in the shallow end of the pool, and there were probably 15-20 AA kids.  Bless their hearts, several of them were downright petrified...they had never been in a swimming pool until that day.

              "Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves" -D. Bowie, F. Mercury et al

              by OffHerRocker on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:53:54 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  government funds swimming lessons all the time (4+ / 0-)

        every time a kid goes into a pool at a public school it is the governnment funding that program... every PUBLIC Pool that exists has some kind of program to teach swimming to kids, teens AND Adults...all of these programs are funded, in part, with GOVERNMENT funds  :)

        "THE SURGE IS WORKING" is the 2008 replacement for "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED"

        by KnotIookin on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:10:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Those are local community funds. (0+ / 0-)

          And if a school district wants to pay for swimming lessons for kids, great.

          "[G]lobalization is...increasing the efficiency of resource allocation through stronger capital markets" - Barack Obama

          by burrow owl on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:11:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  School districts paying for swimming lessons (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            KnotIookin, justCal, haruki

            for kids IS government funding for swimming lessons.  If you think this is "great", then why wouldn't you agree such programs should be expanded?

            WARNING: There is a high probability that the preceding comment is snark. Use your best judgment (hopefully better than Sen. Clinton's or Sen. McCain's).

            by Anarchofascist on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:19:46 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  not free (0+ / 0-)

          though - those classes, if avail. are still costly.
          Our parks dept. has small wading pools - no 'swimming'. The y has pools, but classes cost money, the lakes have no classes - parks dept. has no money.

          "Junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and legs collapse." - Al Gore

          by parryander on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:13:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Tips? (24+ / 0-)

     never done this before, so here it goes.

    "Time to eat all your words, swallow your pride, open your eyes..." --Tears for Fears (Seeds of Love)

    by Abacab on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:56:34 AM PDT

  •  Not just swimming (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    virgomusic, justCal

    There are also other recreational skills in decline in the inner city.

    Fewer kids play baseball than before, for instance.

    A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having // Swords Crossed

    by quaoar on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:56:45 AM PDT

  •  I've often (5+ / 0-)

    wondered how much of this is cultural. Every so often, you see something about how almost no elite swimmers are black (even those from non-American countries). Beyond issues of access, I wonder if this is just one of those things that is not ingrained as something black people "do". After all, lots of people learn to swim from their parents, but if fewer adults in the community can swim, they aren't likely to pass it on.

    I can swim perfectly well, but alas, I never learned to ride a bike. I wasn't very interested as a child, and my parents had no interest in teaching me either.

    So, when my daughter turned 6 and it was time to take off the training wheels, I first suggested that my husband teach her. Somehow, though, it slowly became my task (because I'm shorter and somewhat more patient). And she learned how, being taught by me, who knows almost nothing about bikes. So you know, you can get your kids to to things you can't do yourself. It's possible, and it's good for them.

    Barack Obama will only become president if enough people pay attention, so pay attention, dammit!

    by JMS on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:58:08 AM PDT

    •  Wow! That hits home to me! (7+ / 0-)

       I just taught my six year old to relearn how to ride her new bike just last weekend. In the process, I passed on some life lessons about looking forward and never behind; about never quitting till you reach your goal. For the record my girl did absolutely wonderful and biked a half a mile on her own to our van we had parked down the road.

       This from someone who had very limited bike skills which to me is a joint "alas" with you.

      "Time to eat all your words, swallow your pride, open your eyes..." --Tears for Fears (Seeds of Love)

      by Abacab on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:01:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Access and Culture (2+ / 0-)

      Beyond issues of access, I wonder if this is just one of those things that is not ingrained as something black people "do". After all, lots of people learn to swim from their parents, but if fewer adults in the community can swim, they aren't likely to pass it on.

      I don't think these two things are distinct from eachother.  For so long public swimming pools were restricted, leaving Black city dwellers very few opportunities to learn to swim.  In that sense it DID become cultural.  As you point out, if the parents never learned (because they never had the opportunity) they don't tend to pass it on.  It becomes a cultural reality that swimming is something Black people don't do.  Consider the reverse with say, basketball.  Basketball is an urban sport really.  All you need is a ball and a playground with a hoop.  As cities became less and less White the sport became more and more dominated by Black kids.  Black kids in cities had easy access to the sport and fewer White kids were living in inner city neighborhoods with playground pick-up games every afternoon.

      "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -Ghandi

      by Triscula on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:15:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I believe it is the maintenance of racism in US (0+ / 0-)

      Jeff Wiltse has a great book,
      Contested Water: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. He has researched this issue in northern cities such as Chicago, Warren, Ohio, New York City, and St. Louis (although St. Louis is on the edge between northern and southern.)

      What he found is interesting, I recommend this book.

  •  This is a very important issue. (2+ / 0-)

    As you and others have said, a big reason for this (perhaps the primary reason) is a lack of easily-reachable (and affordable) pool resources. It's something we do need to pay much more attention to. People take it for granted that swimming is this thing everyone learns (like riding a bicycle), but in reality, it's something most people have to be taught to do, and it's a lot more important to know how to swim a dozen yards than it is to stay on a bicycle for the equivalent distance.

    hillary "tiny tim" clinton: rich people, god bless us, every one!

    by haruki on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:12:27 AM PDT

  •  I can tread water. Does that count? (0+ / 0-)
  •  I swim at two public pools (3+ / 0-)

    here in Oakland, Temescal and DeFremery.

    Oakland Tech, a majority AfAm high school, has well attended swim classes with some cool trainings and large Af-Am participation at Temsecal. (Most of the lifeguards at Temescal are people of color.)

    However the lap swimmers and Masters swimmers are mostly white.

    I just swam at DeFremery in West Oakland last night and there was a young Af-Am competitive swimmer training in one of the lanes...getting pointers from a Latino life guard.

    Fwiw, I grew up next to the Oxford Pool in St. Paul. A great pool in a great community.

    Good points, there's so much we can do to change these stats.

    Learning how to swim is just such a great fitness skill and it is very enjoyable for everyone.

    •  Recreation and Parks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kid oakland, TexDem, annetteboardman

      We need better Rec. and Parks programs in our cities.  Our family lived in Montgomery County, MD for a few years and it gave me the opportunity to see what a really nice rec. and parks program looks like.  There were lots of good pools, swim lessons, fitness classes, arts classes, great parks, and summer programs for kids.  Where we live now, in Richmond, VA, working class or poor kids are mostly out of luck.  We've got a few public pools but many of them are way over-crowded and not nearly enough of all of the other things I listed above.  It's really eye-opening when you get a chance to see a place that does these things right.

      "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -Ghandi

      by Triscula on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:19:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A great project for charitable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    organizations would be swimming classes for all elementary school kids.

  •  Actually this is really important to me (6+ / 0-)

    I am basing research on the history of swimming pools and this is a crucial number because of the impact of segregation, desegregation, and white flight.  Thanks for posting this!

    Today, high crime rate and lack of funding have left a lot of these pools deserted.

    I am finding that the problem is less about funding than it is racism.  It is very important.

  •  Very interesting. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries

    I laughed when I first saw the title but this is a very thought-provoking diary.

    It makes me think about how, out here in the rocky mtn west where I have live my whole life, I almost never see any black people hiking, rafting, kayaking, fishing...I worked with a group once that took inner-city kids on backpacking trips. It didnt go very well.  Mostly those kids simply didnt like being way out in the wildernes.  Most were black.  I attributed it to the shock of coming from the city and suddenly being in the middle of nowhere (or the middle of everything as I like to think about it)...think of the shock.

    THis post makes me wonder about that.  Maybe there is more to it than that.  Cultural?  Economic?  Dunno.

    Thought-provoking tho.

  •  Great Point (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a member of the Black Surfing Association, and periodically we hold "black outs" at local beaches to teach black people how to surf.

    Parenthetically, more lives in New Orleans might've been saved if everyone knew how to swim.

  •  Drowning #1 safety issue for kids w/autism (2+ / 0-)

    Many kids with autism (of all ethnicities and races) are unusually attracted to water (some theorize because of the simultaneous engagement and stimulation of all 5 senses).  Drowning is the #1 cause of death for kids with autism. Special Olympics programs are everywhere and are a great way to enable any child or adult with autism or intellectual disabilities learn to swim.  

    "Those dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California." - Carl Sandburg

    by Critical Dune on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:51:45 AM PDT

  •  Public pools, school pools, much rarer (0+ / 0-)

    than they used to be.

    "A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to continue this process, and a vote to continue this process is a vote that assists John McCain." - Joe Andrew

    by Inland on Fri May 02, 2008 at 06:57:07 AM PDT

  •  every year there are tragic news stories (0+ / 0-)

    about kids drowning around here, most of them black, a lot of them teenagers. They usually report in the article that they didn't know how to swim. You see people of all colors on the water in boats fishing, crabbing, shrimping. I think it is a matter of swimming pool accessibility, and that is both cultural and economic.  

    Kids here usually learn to swim in suburban neighborhood pools, and these neighborhoods until recently were mostly white.  If you don't grow up around swimming pools, there are not a lot of opportunities for swimming lessons. If the parents don't swim, it is probably not a high priority for the kids to learn.  

    Many white people of a certain age in the rural South did not grow up around swimming pools, either. My mother is 79 years old, never learned how to swim.  

  •  I didn't want to swim b/c of my hair (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yeah, I'll admit it, my mother forced me to learn how to swim but I just didn't want to get my hair messed up. I know a lot of black folks who feel it just isn't worth the hassle.

    We are there for you when we need you. -The Clintons

    by oak510 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:24:40 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this important diary. (0+ / 0-)

    We lose far too many children to drowning.  

    Swimming is an essential life safety skill.

    We are the ones we've been waiting for.

    by Same As It Ever Was on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:57:19 AM PDT

  •  This is an important diary. (0+ / 0-)

    This disparity exists for many reasons already noted in the comments/diary: few pools, little funding, cultural differences.  Through my many years as an aquatic director and director of a YMCA, I found some reasons more prevalent than others.  

    Financial - swimming pools are expensive AND swimming lessons are usually paid for with residual income which is generally non-existent in lower income families.  Other soft costs involved for AA families are hair care, bathing suits, transportation to wherever lessons are being held and, in order for the lessons to be effective, practice time.  

    Cultural - Swimming has never been looked at in the AA community as a life skill.  When I worked in an affluent (white) suburban Philadelphia community, it was expected that by 9 months kids were in the pool.   (Which actually uncovers another issue involving the availability of swimming for working parents.) I think that this has been changing through the years, however, there is a LONG way to go.  Parents are far more likely to encourage and fund lessons for activities that they see that their child will be able to utilize throughout their lifetime.  If a pool isn't in a parent's line of sight, it likely will not be a priority for the child.  Also, in the same vein, fear plays a large part.  Parents who are afraid of water for reasons similar to those listed in the diary, will likely consciously or subconsciously pass those fears on to their children.

    Unfortunately, what has not been communicated well to all parents of children who don't swim is that drowning does not only happen in pools.  People drown everywhere from their bathtubs to creeks to lakes to flooded cars, etc.  And since children don't reduce their risk-taking behavior just because they don't know how to swim, drowning occurs.  For children to learn water adjustment at an early age and how to maneuver themselves in the water (ie. learning to stand up from a prone position) could put a huge dent in this statistic.

  •  I grew up with a pool in my yard (0+ / 0-)

    so learning to swim was a given. And pools are extremely expensive to maintain. In my early 20s I lived in a low income development that had a clubhouse and pool, and there was never enough money to keep the pool in operation.

    In fourth grade we were all taken to the high school pool for swimming lessons-during the school day. They don't do that anymore-the kids have to spend all day being taught strictly to pass the state WASL test.
    The swim lessons I sent my daughter to when she was 5 and 6 years old were pretty spendy, and it was difficult to get her to them because I worked and they weren't scheduled for working parents.
    There should be some subsidy so that inner city kids can access YMCA or community pools. Swimming is a necessary life skill.

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