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These Black Women Are Fighting for Equal Access to a Lifesaving Skill: Swimming

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Culturally Conscious

Omie Dale remembers swimming in backwaters and rivers as a young child, splashing in the ocean, and racing through water parks.

Due to racial discrimination and historical segregation, many Black communities in the US and UK lack safe access to swimming instruction and public pools. Given that it is, in Dale's words, "the one sport that can save your life," this is very concerning.

An exclusionary past

Free swimming lessons are provided to women and kids in North Kensington, West London, through the swimming collective Swimunity. After the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, when a residential building caught fire and killed 72 people, it was created. According to Sport England's survey, only 34% of kids from England's poorest families can swim 25 meters without assistance. According to USA Swimming data, compared to 40% of their White classmates, nearly 64% of Black youth in the US have "poor" or no ability to swim. According to study, swimming is not a regular activity for 93% of Asians and 78% of Asian adults.

“We can't keep finding bodies”

The World Health Organization said in 2019 that at least 236,000 people die from drowning each year. Drowning is one of the top five causes of death for people between the ages of 1 and 14 in 48 of the 85 countries the WHO analyzed, which highlights how vulnerable children are. Depending on the country, risk factors include having a lower socioeconomic standing, not having a college degree, and belonging to an ethnic minority.

The co-founder and chair of the BSA is Danielle Obe. Along with Olympic swimmer Alice Dearing, journalist Seren Jones, and composer, rapper, and producer Ed Accura, she told CNN Sport that the murders on the Costa del Sol were what inspired her to start the BSA in March 2020.

“People simply believe that Black people shouldn't swim.”

Dearing became the first Black woman swimmer to compete for Great Britain in an Olympic competition. She became a symbol of inspiration for young people, especially Black females, who aspired to enter the sport. Her individual success brought attention to the institutional access gap for persons of color in swimming, though. According to the International Swimming Federation (FINA), neither the grassroots nor the elite level of swimmers are broken down by ethnicity. With more than 3,100 clubs and more than 400,000 members, USA Swimming is a membership-based organization.

Sport England stated in May that it has announced further money, bringing the total amount it has invested in its 121 partners to more than $670 million. A $1 million award will be distributed over a 10-year period to create swim lessons and competition opportunities for the HBCU-served communities.

Serving historically underrepresented populations

The British Swimming Association (BSA) wants to boost the proportion of swimmers from Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia in the UK. Organizers are looking into the attitudes and obstacles that stop these communities from swimming. To identify ways to remove these obstacles, the BSA is collaborating with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the University of Portsmouth.

In addition, Dale participates in Mental Health Swims, a non-profit that organizes swimming events for those who are experiencing mental health issues. She organizes swim meets in south London as part of her duties for the organization to make swimming more accessible to those with mental health issues. She also works as a volunteer with Pride in Water, a group that wants to see more LGBTQ+ people participate in swimming.

"The road ahead looks promising."

Despite the obstacles that some members of the African, Caribbean, and Asian cultures face when trying to swim, Dearing claims that the sport's future is still bright. There is nothing wrong with it, she claims, because every story is unique and every individual must be understood in their own way. The future is bright, but it's difficult and there is no easy fix.

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