Can Simone Manuel’s Olympic
Gold Have An Effect On THIS? (VIDEO)
Before I do anything, I must first give props, recognition, congratulations and thanks to a 20-year-old woman out of Houston, Texas who showed the world that yes, black people do swim. And yes, they can win on the world stage.
Simone Manuel swam right on into the record books, posting a blazing 52.70 in the women’s 100m freestyle (she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak) in the 2016 Olympic Games.
This morning as I read the headlines, I am reminded of a story my mother used to tell me when I was a kid.
My mother got my sister and I in the pool early on; I can still remember sitting on the steps and having her tell us we could not get out until we stuck our faces in the water and blew bubbles.
Growing up in California afforded us ample opportunity to swim and the whole face-in-water-blow-bubbles bit turned Tracy and I into water babies.
My mother was adamant about us being good swimmers, in part because of where we lived, but also from an event that was seared into her memory from when she was a girl.
My mother grew up in West Medford, Massachusetts, a thriving, historically black, middle class area. Her father (until the depression) was a pharmacist; her mother a music teacher and she and her 2 brothers and sister lived in a home they owned.
My mother’s childhood was, by most accounts, idyllic, except for a terrible bout with Rheumatic fever. Kids rode bikes, walked to the store for penny candy and spent the summer swimming.
One day, my mother (who was and still is, a very strong swimmer) headed out to a local spot to escape the brutal heat. Everyone was having a blast, splashing around and so on. But one kid got in too deep and he started to drown. By the time my mother and others reached him, he was in serious distress. Someone ran to call the authorities who, upon arrival, refused to let him use the oxygen mask because he was black.
And so… he died.
Right there, on the ground and soaking wet.
That was probably in the 50’s or so, which, according to Jeff Wiltse author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America , marked the second boom in swimming rates. But because so many African Americans were not allowed to swim in public pools during that time, they swam in unsafe places (swimming holes, lakes and rivers) or not at all.
Children afraid of the water grew up to be adults who feared it too. They never taught their children who will also grow up without knowing that life-saving skill.
The CDC estimates that 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning and that “for black children the chances of drowning are “significantly higher than those for whites and Hispanics at every age from five years through 18.” Roughly 70% of African Americans do not know how to swim.
We see that stat played out in news reports far too often, like this horrifying account of six teenagers from two families, who drowned in Louisiana. They couldn’t swim; neither could anyone who watched them from the banks.
Can we change it? I believe so.
Right now, we celebrate with Simone Manuel as she revels in Olympic glory but I hope that, like a pebble in a pond, her win prompts parents and others to see how important and life-saving knowing how to swim is.
If you are an African American parent who has not taught your child how to swim, please, please, PLEASE take this opportunity, RIGHT NOW to find out how to get him or her enrolled in a class or lessons. This is not a fun, summer thing; it is a life-saving thing.
And if you can’t swim, take the lessons WITH your child.
We have to do better. We owe it to our kids and to ourselves.
You don’t have to swim like Simone… but you do need to know how to swim.