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Seventy percent of African American children can't swim, USA Swimming says

Published: Thursday, July 12 2012 8:23 a.m. MDT

Seventy percent of black and 60 percent of Latino children don't know how to swim, according to USA Swimming, so parents and organizations are working across the country to promote free or low-cost lessons to prevent future childhood drownings.

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Recent statistics and studies are making a splash as they indicate the prevalence of drowning and lack of aquatic knowledge in a large number of children across the country, especially among minority populations.

"According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 70 percent of African American and 60 percent of Hispanic children don't know how to swim," reports Audrey Washington in a recent MSNBC video. "And when it comes to drowning, the CDC found that black children drown at a rate three times higher than their white peers."

Citing that research, safety commission chairman Inez Tenenbaum said "there's no question" that not knowing how to swim contributes to the deaths of minority children who drown in pools and in natural bodies of water such as lakes, streams or the ocean," according to a Fox News Latino article.

Because of these statistics, and a recent study by the safety commission citing further drowning numbers among young children, parents and organizations are working to promote free or low-cost swimming lessons across the country in an effort to reverse these trends.

"We need to address the issue and we need to address it immediately," said James Morton, YMCA Hartford president, in the MSNBC video. "Access to affordable swim lessons that are conveniently located within communities is the real challenge."

Wanda Butts is a parent and advocate who lost a son to a drowning incident several years ago and has since been working to address the issue. She started the Josh Project, named after her other son, which is a nonprofit organization that provides low-cost swimming lessons for children in Toledo, Ohio, according to a CNN article.

"So as a child, I never went around water," said Butts, 58, in the CNN article. "I never went swimming. I didn't know anything about water or life jackets and water safety. All children are at risk of drowning, but the majority of the children that the Josh Project serves are minority children, who we have found are more at risk."

"To date, the Josh Project has helped more than 1,000 children learn how to swim," reports CNN.

"After losing my son, I wanted to do something to help other people, to help another mother not have to suffer the way I do every day from the loss of a child drowning," Butts said in the CNN article.

The reasons minority children are more at risk for drowning have a lot to do with cultural history and barriers, according to experts, and the fact that swimming was not accessible for previous minority generations, especially African Americans.

"Several cultural and historical factors can help explain why that is," according to CNN. "One is the segregation of swimming pools during the 20th century, according to Jeff Wiltse, author of 'Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.' Relatively few swimming pools were built to serve the black community back then, so much of a generation was denied the opportunity to swim, Wiltse told the BBC."

"Also, if parents can't swim, their children are far less likely to learn how, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Memphis," CNN added. "The study, sponsored by USA Swimming, found that a fear of drowning and a fear of injury prevent many African-American parents from putting their children in swimming lessons. It also found that many avoid swimming for cosmetic reasons, such as the effect chlorinated water has on their hair."

Experts agree that childhood drowning is an important problem to address going forward for children and their parents, and the importance of swimming is gaining national attention as well.

"Tenenbaum noted that swimming is a featured activity in first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" fitness initiative, and she encouraged parents who don't know how to swim to make swimming lessons a family activity," according to the Fox News Latino article.

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