Monday, October 21, 2019
US flag

Black lives matter in swimming pools, too

Ebony Rosemond, who runs the organization Black Kids Swim, suggests in the Washington Post that African-American children don’t learn to swim and that too many black lives are lost to drowning as well as police shootings.

“While police killings of black people sometimes attract front-page attention, black lives lost due to drowning are largely ignored,” she writes. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children drown at 5.5 times the rate of other children. And in the United States, where 10 people drown every day, that is a lot of black lives lost.”

Even as we Marylanders worry about air conditioning in the schools of Baltimore County, Ms Rosemond points out that not a single elementary, middle, or high school in predominantly black Prince George’s County has a swimming pool. She blames this on a continuation of Jim Crow Law-like thinking on the part of communities across America, but some blame falls on the black community itself, where fear of the water, not stereotypes held by whites, prevents black children from taking swimming lessons or joining others at a pool.

Infographic for young children about learning to swim

1000 Drops of Water Campaign at a new pool in Michigan City, Ind. (Indiana University)


As the infographic from Indiana University Health suggests, as part of a campaign launched last year in Michigan City, learning to swim should play a prominent role in our young people’s lives. It could save their lives one day, just as learning how to behave when a police officer pulls you over in a traffic stop might.

The problem with the infographic is that it says to kids, “Ask your parents to help you learn to swim as early as possible.” That’s good advice, but it misses the mark in our black communities because black parents are just as afraid of the water as black children are. An African-American woman, who had a 4-year-old son, once said to me as we were driving past a community pool in Naperville, Illinois, “I had two cousins that drowned.” She then said her son wouldn’t be going anywhere near the pool, which was provided in her community.

There’s not much we can do about the fears people have. I’m afraid of wasps, for example, and I avoid places if there’s a wasp. If a black person is afraid of the water for whatever reason, he is likely to avoid swimming pools. I’m pretty sure being stung by a wasp wouldn’t kill me though, as drowning kills many African-American boys and girls.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the problem is compounded by an availability issue—schools don’t have pools—a situation we might be able to fix. In Naperville, there were pools everywhere but no black children at them, I suspect, because black parents were afraid their sons and daughters would drown.

We have to end this cycle, just as much as we have to end the cycle of black lives being lost to police brutality. America has a lot of water, and if black children want to grow old in America, we should work to eliminate all threats to their lives, especially those from preventable causes.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

High-payroll Yankees don’t make World Series

The World Series begins Tuesday, but some of the playoff games can teach us valuable things about youth sports, investment, etc.

Chicago teacher strike enters calendar week 2

Chicago teachers strike for the 3rd day Monday; the union wants smaller class sizes and support for paraprofessionals.

What happened after a coach disarmed a student

In Oregon last May, a high school coach saw a student carrying a gun and disarmed him. Now we know what happened next.

Fox Island disappears in the Chesapeake

An island that has provided some environmental education for many is being lost to rising sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ohio University hazing charges bring suspensions

The university is investigating hazing charges brought against several student organizations and social groups.

Vaping in a Md. high school

Clarksburg HS, like others in Montgomery County and across the nation, has a vaping problem among its students.

No Howard Co. juniors face required redistricting

Howard Co., Md., faces not only overcrowding but wide gaps in terms of socioeconomic status of families at its diverse schools.

Monkeys beat humans in cognitive flexibility

When we go about solving problems, we are sometimes so fixed in our ways that we fail to explore more efficient solution strategies.

Calif. law requires a sane start time for teens

A new law in Calif. will require public middle schools to start no earlier than 8:00 and high schools no earlier than 8:30.

Chicago teachers will begin a strike Thursday

Chicago Public Schools teachers are expected to begin a strike Thursday. The last one, in 2012, lasted 7 school days.

‘Read to the Final Four’ coming for 3rd graders

A reading contest for 3rd graders in the Atlanta metro area will crown the "Final Four" schools just before the NCAA tournament.