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Water Safety: Bridging the Swim Gap for a Safer Summer

by Janelle Ikard

While watching the news, I was surprised to hear that there has been a steady increase in drowning deaths among Black people. As the weather warms up, many of us will grab our swimsuits and head to the pool or the beach to cool off. Summer means fun in the water, but it's important to stay safe.

Drowning Deaths on the Rise

Drowning deaths have increased in recent years. From 2020-2022, more than 4,500 people drowned annually, making it a leading cause of death for children and teens. About 15% of U.S. adults do not know how to swim, and more than half have not taken a swimming lesson. While one-third of Black adults report not being able to swim, less than 10% of whites report not being able to swim. Only one-third of Black adults have taken swimming lessons, compared to 52% of White adults.

Why Are There Racial Disparities in Swimming?

There is a common myth that Black people don't swim. But this is not true. Several factors contribute to the real reason for these racial disparities:

  1. Historical and Systemic Barriers: Black Americans have had limited access to beaches and public swimming pools. For generations, discriminatory tactics were used to keep Black people out of community pools. These tactics included physical assaults and pouring bleach, acid, and nails into the pool. As a result, many Black families avoided public pools, leading to a generational lack of swimming skills.

  2. Access to Swimming Facilities: Many lower and middle-class neighborhoods lack neighborhood pools or community centers with swimming facilities. When pools are available, they are often overcrowded, underfunded, and require membership fees, making them inaccessible to many Black families.

  3. Cost of Swimming Lessons: Swimming lessons can be expensive and families may find it difficult to afford swimming lessons, especially if there are multiple children in the household.

Water Safety Tips

  1. Watch Kids Closely: Always keep an eye on children and non-swimmers, even if lifeguards are present.

  2. Use Life Jackets: Everyone should wear life jackets on boats. Young children and weak swimmers should wear them for all water activities. Make sure the life jackets fit well by looking at the label that provides information about the size of the jacket, including weight and chest size.

  3. Avoid Alcohol: Don’t drink alcohol while swimming or watching children in the water as it can impair your judgement.

  4. Learn CPR: Knowing CPR can save lives in emergencies.

  5. Be Aware of Safety Signs: Read safety signs and swim near lifeguards. Remember, drowning can happen to anyone, anytime there is access to water. It can occur in seconds and is often silent.

  6. Swim with a buddy: Make sure you bring a friend or family member to join you on your swim.

Resources for You and Your Family

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, children aged 4 and up can take free drowning prevention classes. For details, visit Fort Worth Swimming Lessons. Look for free or discounted drowning prevention classes or swim lessons in your local area.

In Chicago, every child ages 6-17 can take an introductory swimming course for free. Visit the Chicago Park District Learn to Swim Program website for more information.

The Red Cross also has a free online course called "Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers." For more information, visit the Red Cross Water Safety Course.

By following these tips and addressing the swimming skill gap, we can help everyone stay safe and enjoy the water. Remember, water safety is everyone's job, and being prepared can save lives.


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