Summer has officially graced us with her long-awaited presence, a season that means longer days of fun at amusement parks, days at the beach, and swimming pools for families.
For others, it’s a reminder of tragedy the summer can bring.
Just this month, five children ranging from the ages of 2 to 5 were reported dead after drowning in backyard and community pools. The tragic accidents have similar narratives — unattended children are left to wander near pools alone. Without the proper supervision, the children — who in most cases do not know how to swim — panic and drown.
A recent survey by USA Swimming reveals that nearly 40 percent of White children have little-to-no swimming abilities. But the staggering percentage seems minuscule when compared to the 70 percent of Black children who cannot swim. Sixty percent of Hispanic children face the same worry.
This summer, the YMCA plans to change that with their National Water Safety Program.
Speaking with NewsOne, Philadelphia’s Christian Street Aquatic Director Janet Wright discussed the importance of water safety and how it can make a difference for you and your family this summer.
The program, which kicked off in May, plans to school children as young as six months on swimming and basic water safety tips. Over 13,000 scholarships for free lessons will be given to children in the inner city areas throughout the country.
Wright, who began her career as a lifeguard at the YMCA, stressed that the need for African-American children to learn basic water safety tips is a priority, especially in the wake of too many tragic incidents involving children in swimming pools.
“The children will learn to be safe in and around water and what a safe aquatics environment looks like,” she said. “There’s life jackets and lifeguards that are Coast Guard approved, and lessons on how to manage yourself when you’re in the water alone. There will be two different techniques the children will learn and options on what to do in the event of an emergency.”
Children will also learn how to improve their motor, cognitive, and social skills before stepping foot in the pool. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports drowning as the second leading cause of injury-related death among children under the age of 15. Other studies show Black children from ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools nearly five times more often than White children. The painful stereotype of African-Americans’ poor swimming skills is just one reminder of the trouble a child can face.
The world was also reminded in 2010, when six African-American teenagers from Louisiana drowned in Shreveport’s Red River. The teens (from two different families) were found dead after trying to save a friend from rough waters. The victims of the Warner family included Takeitha, 13; and her brothers, JaMarcus, 14; and JaTavious, 17. The others killed were the Stewarts: Litrelle, 18; LaDarius, 17; and Latevin, 15.
Sadly, parents and friends watched in horror as the teens drowned in up to 20 feet of water because they, too, couldn’t swim.
“None of us could swim,” Marilyn Robinson, a friend of the families, told the Times of Shreveport, adding that she watched helplessly as the victims went under. “They were yelling, ‘Help me, help me. Somebody please help me.’ It was nothing I could do but watch them drown, one by one.”
Wright says parents and children can learn together and smash the stereotype while also saving lives in the process.
“There needs to be a shift in the mindset first,” said Wright. “If there’s someone present who is trained and knows how to swim, there shouldn’t be anything to be afraid of. They’re going to work with you, especially if you’re at the YMCA. Swimming itself is a life skill, so you’ll be using this for a long time. Even when you can’t run anymore, or bike anymore, aquatics is one of those things you can do from the time you are born, until the time you leave this earth.”
The Christian Street YMCA is a branch of the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA. Their swimming classes vary from children and parent lessons, to private lessons for pre-schoolers. Learn more about their programs here and find information at your local Y here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty