Local efforts promote swim skills for minority kids

August 4, 2010 4:37:52 AM PDT
The deaths of six teenagers who drowned in a Louisiana river illustrate a troubling statistic.

According to a professional swimming organization, 69 percent of African-American children have little or no swimming ability.

The children were from two families. Five boys and a girl who ranged in age from 13 to 18 drowned while trying to save each other in Shreveport's Red River. The teens were playing in shallow water but suddenly one boy slipped into deeper water.

There are several efforts nationwide and here in Chicago to promote swimming to minority children.

ABC7 took a look at the deaths and the push to teach more children to swim in Chicago.

Denise Robinson picked her daughters up Tuesday night from Eckhart Park's indoor swimming pool. Coming to the near West Side park district pool is a daily event for this Chicago family.

"I've been swimming since maybe 6 years old. My oldest girl started at 6, my oungest at 6. It is part of our life," said Robinson.

But Robinson's daughter Kayla says swimming is not part of her friends' lives.

"I know a lot of friends who do not know how to swim," said Kayla.

A recent USA Swimming report found that minority children are much less proficient at swimming than whites, which is why the drowning rate for African-American children is more than three times that of white children. The reality of that statistic played out in Shreveport, La., Monday night.

"You can imagine watching your child drowned and not being able to do anything," said Chief Brian Crawford, Shreveport, La., fire chief. That is what Maude Warner did as she watched helplessly from the banks of the Red River. Warner's three children drowned trying to rescue another child. In all, six teenage children lost their lives because they and the adults they were with did not know how to swim.

"You never know when a life and death situation might happen. It's good to learn how to swim might save your life one day," said Rachel Gray.

Gray and all her siblings swim at Chicago Park District pools. She says her goal is to teach her own mother how to swim.

"My mama says before she leaves this earth the last thing she wants to do is learn how to swim," said Gray.

Gray says her mother is afraid of the water. Fear, the cost of swimming lessons and access to pools are all reasons the USA swimming report cites for the swimming gap between African-Americans and whites.

The Chicago Park District operates 26 indoor pools and 51 outdoor. This summer free swim lessons are being offered to kids ages 6 to 12.


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