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Drowning of 6 Black Youths a Powerful Lesson for Black Parents

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Kimberly Seals Allers:My heart just sank at the news.
Family of Drown Teens
Just last week, I blogged my concern about the disproportionately high drowning rates in the African-American community, and how more of our kids don't have the important life skill of swimming. I was moved to write by a recent USA Swimming survey, which found that approximately 70 percent of African-American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children report low or no swimming ability. I talked about my own swimming fears, even though my children enjoy swimming and there is a sizable pool at my home.

So you can imagine how I reacted to the news that six teenagers (SIX!!) drowned in Shreveport's Red River earlier this week when they waded over a drop-off into much deeper water. The teenagers, aged 13 to 18, had come with their families to the area for a cookout. The victims were three siblings from the Warner family (Takeitha, 13, and her brothers JaMarcus, 14, and JaTavious, 17) and three brothers from the Stewart family (Litrelle, 18, LaDairus, 17, and Latevin, 15).The tragedy within this tragedy is that, according to published reports, the teens entered the water together, but only one boy slipped into the deep area at first. (He ended up being the only survivor.) The other teens went to help him, but they didn't know how to swim, either.

The USA Swimming survey noted that many black kids have a false sense of security about swimming, with many of them saying that they knew how to swim when in fact they'd had no formal lessons. The study also found that while 40 percent of children report that they are able to swim, only 18 percent of total respondents have ever taken a swim lesson from a certified instructor. (When asked how they learned to swim, 28 percent of Hispanic children and 26 percent of African-American children responded, "I taught myself.")This false sense of confidence often leads to tragedy, since 60 percent of the children with no to low swimming ability surveyed planned to spend time in and around the water this summer at least once per month.

Another heartwrenching element of this tragic incident is that the sole survivor, D.J. Warner, 15 (the Warners' cousin), reportedly screamed for help. This stayed with me, because when I interviewed African-American Olympic gold medalist swimmer Cullen Jones, who serves as the spokesperson for Make a Splash, he specifically mentioned the misconception that most people drown flailing and screaming. Jones says that, in most cases, people drown in silence. Yet screaming is an important thing to do.

But mostly I was reminded that we can no longer view swimming skills as a luxury of the elite. If we are equipping our children with all the life skills they need to survive and thrive in the world, swimming should be among those basics. Cullen Jones said that all it really takes is eight swimming lessons, and most kids will have learned enough water safety to be set for life. Just eight. Imagine what those eight lessons could have done for those seven teens -- the six who passed away and the young boy who now has to live with the trauma of losing his family and friends to the water.

My prayers go out to the Warner and Stewart families.I hope the message to all black parents is clear: We must close this water gap and put our kids in (not out of) the water, in order to save their lives.

next: If You Think YOUR Kids Are Bad ....
46 comments so far | Post a comment now
kathyj August 10, 2010, 3:45 PM

First I must say that my heart goes out to the parents and families of these kids. I am an Afro American mother of 5 beautiful children, born and raised in Ca. I am a very strong swimmer and so are my first 4 children, but we also know you cant always trust the water and currents, drop-offs and such. I married a wonderful loving Afro American man from Texas who’s idea of swimming was ‘fill up the bath tub and have fun’, or no swimming at all! No getting on boats either, as it had been drilled into him. You only fish from the creek bank and that is it. Which fishing was his favorite. Because of his fears my baby did not swim. This summer I was supposed to sneak off and teach our baby to swim, as she was so tired of playing in the little/shallow side. Unfortunetly because of his fears my 11yr. baby girl drowned on June 5th, 2010. She was at a party that did not include swimming, and was supposedly pushed into the water by another kid. None of the adults at the party even knew my baby was even in the water. Even after losing our baby, and struggling with it everyday my husbands fear of the water only grew stronger. He got rid of all his fishing gear and WONT go near any water, and wont even talk about water. I also have 3 grandsons and I tell him that he has to
take them fishing and that we need to teach them to swim so that this never happens again to none of our babys. He wont hear of it. He says not today or tommorow. But this is the one time that I must go against him and his beliefs. After loosing my baby
I have to say to all parents make sure your babys know how to swim, you never know when they may need to know, as in my daughters case. And just because you are afraid/dont trust the water, PLEASE dont take that option away from your children. Putting it off just wont do. We teach our babys everything
else, why not teach them to swim, it just might oneday save there lives.

Kailyn August 11, 2010, 10:20 PM

I knew JaTavious. He was my brothers friend. Its quite heart breaking. But they should have been wearing life jackets. R.I.P.

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