From Black Voices — We’ve all read the statistics; the drowning rates of black children far exceed those of their white peers. In addition, the swimming proficiency of black children, accordingly, also lacks in comparison to their white peers; purportedly nearly 70 percent of black teens and children possess little or no swimming skills. Thanks to organizations like USA Swimming (the governing body of competitive swimming in the United States), the Make A Splash Foundation and the YMCA, there have been sustained efforts to increase swimming instruction among black children.
Yet in the backdrop of this seeming crisis, a generation of black swimmers have been making waves in competitive swimming and many of them will convene this Memorial Day weekend for the 9th Annual National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet, at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, North Carolina.
The Black Heritage Meet was founded in 2003 by Kathy Cooper who coaches theNorth Carolina Aquablazers. Cooper’s daughter’s Candace (now a swimmer at UNC-Chapel Hill) was a year-round competitive swimmer and Cooper was frustrated by the lack of diversity she witnessed at competitive meets. Blacks make up roughly 1 percent of all competitive swimmers, a number that only gets smaller among elite competitors.
With the Black Heritage Meet, Cooper hoped to provide a forum where young black swimmers and their parents could network. That first meet, held in Charlotte, NC attracted 104 swimmers; this year’s meet will feature 896 athletes of all races, from forty-seven teams and 12 states.
The image of competitive swimming has been given a boost in black communities in recent years because of the success and visibility of Cullen Jones (pictured above), who won a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, as part of the US Men’s 200M Freestyle Relay. Jones, who nearly drowned as a child and who was a collegiate swimmer at North Carolina State University, has used his relative celebrity to get the word out about swimming safety.