Swimming While Black

Good Morning. Good Afternoon. Good Evening. <— all depends on where you are reading this right?

Well, today I decided to blog about a subject that is near and dear to my heart…

Black Swimmers!

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why.  Well if you don’t know already, I am a black swimmer.  My mum enrolled me into swimming at the local YMCA in my city at the age of 3.  I was enrolled in swimming lessons until the age of 14.  It is at this age that my mum and I had a conversation.

Mum: Marla, I never learned to swim as a child or adult and I really believe swimming is important.  I also believe that it’s important that you have a hobby or skill that you can use anywhere. I have signed you up for lifeguard training.

This was the BEST news ever! I would be able to train under one of my previous swim instructors who I admired so much.

Here’s the big thing. I get to training.  The YOUNGEST person there and the ONLY black child/youth.  It really didn’t even matter to me at the time.  I was just there to pass the lifeguard test and to get my CPR/AED training.

and I DID!!!!

That Summer of 1995 I had my FIRST official job.  Like I was paying taxes and such.

I was working at my old stomping grounds, the YMCA that I took lesson at as a child.  I also had the privilege to work with two of my swim instructors I had growing up.

Again, I was the ONLY black lifeguard on staff.  At least I was the only black until July.  By mid July there were three of us.

By the next summer I got certified as a swim instructor.  Again…the only black.

I started to notice the trend.

  • synchronized swimming – ONLY
  • lifeguarding – ONLY
  • swim intructor – ONLY
  • swim team – ONLY
  • swim team coach – ONLY
  • water aerobics instructor – ONLY
Me with a water baby in Nigeria.

So it’s 2017 and I have worked at 3 YMCAs, 1 Jewish Community Center, 2 two international schools and MOST times I am the only PoC (Person of Colour) that is there or the only PoC that remains.   I also, am the instructor that everyone wants.  I am perfectly ok with that, but it saddens me that PoC are so few in number in sports or activities that involve water.

This is why as a Black swim instructor, I am determined to reach out to my fellow PoC to ensure that they see my face.  That PoC EVERYWHERE know that we exist.

Below you will find a list of some that I follow on Twitter and Instagram.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children aged five-14 is three times that of white children.  A recent study sponsored by USA Swimming uncovered equally stark statistics. Just under 70% of African-American children surveyed said they had no or low ability to swim. Low ability merely meant they were able to splash around in the shallow end. A further 12% said they could swim but had “taught themselves”.

It is my goal that PoC, especially Black people, discover a new rite of passage.  It is my goal that WE as a people to learn how to swim!

Remember: “Just keep swimming!” – Dory

*side note*

So, I was looking through my iStock photos – yes I have a membership, not a SINGLE image when I type in “African American Swim Instructor” or “Black Swim Instructor”.  Hey iStock if you need some images please hit me up!



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