Medgar Evers College swimming pool (217392)
Credit: Medgar Ever College photo

According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of Black children cannot swim. Black children are also more likely to drown than white children. The statistic is deeply rooted in the stereotype that Black people don’t like to swim or simply can’t.

The stigma dates back to segregation in America when Blacks were told that they could not swim in certain pools. A famous image depicts James Brock, a white motel manager in St. Augustine, Fla., dumping the cleansing agent Muriatic acid into a swimming pool with Black protesters in the 1960s. The image shows swimmers with not only pain but fear on their faces.

White swimmers believed that Blacks were “dirty” and would contaminate pool water. Such attitudes barred Blacks from swimming in public pools leading to many not learning how to swim.

New York parks are working to push back against this by offering free swim lessons to all individuals within the city.

“NYC Parks is proud to offer free swim lessons all summer long through our Learn to Swim program,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP said in a statement to the AmNews. “Water safety is extremely important, and our trained aquatics professionals ensure that everyone learns to swim in a safe, fun environment. At more than 30 locations throughout the five boroughs, New Yorkers of all ages can learn to swim, or simply brush up on their skills, by registering for one of our free programs.”

Black swimming instructor Anges Davis is head of the organization Swim Swim I Say. In a recent interview with the AmNews, Davis said that she and other instructors teach people of all ages in both large groups and even on the individual level how to swim.

According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1-14. New York ranks 41 in the nation for fatal drownings

“You can’t expect a person who had a near-drowning experience to put their head in the water and start blowing bubbles,” Davis said. “The best way for a person to start is to simply put their feet in the water.”

Davis added that she recently lost her pool and her struggle to gain access to another one. Due to this obstacle, she is not teaching at the moment. Davis remains hopeful

“I believe that I will be given money to build my own pool.”

For more information on Davis’ organization go to