During our Red Cross certification training, LIC YMCA Aquatics Director Mohinder Rana asked us to spread the word that the YMCA is offering free swimming lessons on April 10-14, dubbed YMCA Safety round Water Week. Registration starts today, March 27.
This annual YMCA tradition is more than a promotion. It’s a life saver and, with regard to education and the environment, an instrument of racial justice.
Even in swimming pool black kids drown at five times the rate of white, according to research by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About seventy percent of African-American and sixty percent of Latino children can’t swim, according to a study by the University of Memphis. The World Health Organization identifies drowning as a leading cause of death by unintentional injury and cites being a member of an ethnic minority as a risk factor globally, with some regions worse than others. American racism in the management of public pools and beaches compounded that of expensive all-white private clubs. Those barred by bigotry didn’t get a chance to learn to swim, and when parents don’t swim, children almost never do either. A few generations in and you’ve got a cultural void. African Americans’ generations of activism have produced many victories, but today’s grim statistics point to more than physical peril. That where education and the environment come in.
Education: In New York City, our estuary is the greatest presence of nature, and nature is the greatest inspiration for study of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). If more African and Latino youth could swim, more would boat with HarborLAB, and therefore more would have their minds excited by what they observe and discover for themselves. Contact with nature has also been measured to reduce attention deficity hyperactive disorder, stress, and depression, all huge educational hindrances in the lower-income urban experience.
Environment: No one can doubt that African Americans and increasingly US citizens and residents with Latino heritage effectively organize for civil rights and other causes. But without access to nature, forming a bond with nature, how can one advocate in a sustained, moving way for clean water and healthy ecosystems? We will all benefit from more African Americans taking up both paddles and soon after, marine environmental causes. African American experience and honed skills in community organizing for justice could prove to be a transformative element in the fight for a better, equitably enjoyed environment. Let it start on NYC’s waters.
We should see the relative dearth of African American and Latino people in aquatics, maritime occupations, and marine biology as a visible scar left by racism. On the surface this looks like self-exclusion, but with an understanding of history we see it’s clearly not. And it’s not inevitable.
We HarborLAB volunteers hope you spread the word about YMCA Safety Around Water Week because with more swimmers we have more people to welcome into our community and onto environmental education paddling adventures!
If you miss out on the YMCA’s program, check out the free swimming lessons our friends at Swim Strong Foundation are offering in May! Swim Strong Foundation also offers swimming instruction with scholarships throughout the year. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s learn-to-swim program is a great leader in this effort to save lives and open a water world of exploration to all. Time Out New York Kids has a great wrap up of free swimming lessons.