Monday, June 21, 2010

Too Many African-American Children Can’t Swim. Why?

Too Many African-American Children Can’t Swim. Why?
by Brittany Fitzpatrick
Special to the Tri-State Defender

On June 4, 11-year-old Malik Navon Ogburn dove into a Clarksville motel pool to retrieve a toy that had been tossed into the deep end. He never came back up.

According to the USA Swimming Foundation, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that three children drown every day. Nemours pediatric health systems reports that almost 1,000 kids drown annually.

During the summer, water safety becomes an even greater concern as many children search out pools, lakes and beaches for relief from the sweltering heat. And while water safety should be a concern for all parents, a recent study released by the University of Memphis Department of Health & Sport Sciences found that parents of African-American children should be particularly concerned.

Nearly 70 percent of African-American children have low or no swim ability, compared to 40 percent of Caucasians, putting them at risk for drowning, according to the study, which was conducted for USA Swimming’s Make a Splash Initiative. The report also found that the largest reason for low swimming ability among African-American children was the fear the parents had of swimming.

USA Swimming is a national, water safety initiative that strives to provide all children with the opportunity to learn to swim. The Make a Splash initiative seeks to provide learn-to-swim opportunities specifically for minority children ages 5-14, who they say are most at-risk to drowning.

“The findings from this study reinforce the importance of raising awareness about learning to swim as a life-saving skill,” said Chris LaBianco, Chief Development Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation.

“The USA Swimming Foundation, Cullen Jones (Olympic Swimmer) and Make a Splash are continuing to spread this message to parents and kids at the grassroots level in cities across America,” said LaBianco. “We are also working with hundreds of partner programs to offer low and no cost lessons and/or water safety education to families in need. We are hopeful that, together, we can save lives and reduce the drowning rates.”

Earlier data released by the CDC showed that from 2000 to 2006, the drowning rate for African-American children ages five to 14 was 3.1 times higher than that of white children of the same age range.

According to the U of M report, while 40 percent of all children surveyed reported they were able to swim, only 18 percent had ever received a formal swim lesson from a certified instructor. In fact, 26 percent of African-American children reported they had taught themselves to swim.

“This false sense of confidence can lead to tragedy, as 60 percent of children with low or no swim ability plan to be in and around the water this summer at least once a month,” read the study findings. 

Dr. Carol Irwin, one of the authors of the study and a professor at the University of Memphis, spoke to the connection between African-American children who drown and the fear the parents had of swimming.

“Parents did not know how to swim and therefore would not allow their children near the water. This is counterproductive…a discussion between two parents started with one parent talking about how basketball was all that their child liked to do, and then the other parent said, ‘Learning how to play basketball won’t save his life.’ I think the two comments say a lot,” said Dr. Irwin.

“Our community needs to understand that disenfranchised populations experience fatal and non-fatal drowning events at a much higher rate, which can be drastically decreased or even eliminated,” she said.

“The barriers that minority populations encounter can be overcome… the ‘message’ – all children NEED to learn how to swim – needs to be delivered by someone they trust…

“Also, swim instructors need to talk to parents of minority children in lessons. They need to calm their fears and encourage them to keep their children in lessons.”

Memphis Outdoor Public Pools

Hours: Monday - Saturday from 12 p.m. to   6 p.m. All pools will be closed on Sunday. Admission to all outdoor pools is free.
Swim Lessons: (offered at Charlie Morris, Ed Rice, and Westwood Pools only.)
Swim Lesson for Children:
Monday – Friday: 6 pm - 6:45 p.m. for 2 weeks. $25.00 a session
Swim Lesson for Adults:
Monday - Friday: 6 p.m. - 6:45 p.m. for 2 weeks. $48.00 a session
Aquatic Facilities

L.E. Brown Pool, 617 S. Orleans, 527-3620
Charles Morris Pool, 1225 Brown, 272-0327
Douglass Pool, 1616 Ash, 323-3542
Ed Rice Pool, 2907 N. Watkins, 353-0627
Gaisman Pool, 4223 Macon, 374-9182
Gooch Pool, 1974 Hunter, 276-9685
Lester Pool, 317 Tillman, 323-2261
Pine Hill Pool, 973 Alice, 947-2978
Raleigh Pool, 3678 Powers, 372-1930
Riverview Pool, 182 Joubert, 948-7609
Tom Lee Pool, 328 Peach, 527-3748
Westwood Pool, 833 Western Park, 789-6275
Willow Pool, 4777 Willow Rd., 763-2917

For additional information visit

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