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Three Steps to Increasing African American Participation in Learn to Swim Classes

By Ebony Rosemond, Executive Director of Black Kids Swim

Black Kids Swim is a Maryland-based non-profit charity dedicated to increasing Black participation in the sport of competitive swimming. In 2019, BKS interviewed 140 Black swim parents to identify a path toward “Improving the Competitive Swim Experience for Black Swimmers.” Our goal was to define how Black swim families entered the world of competitive swimming, and their experiences. Their responses were both enlightening and surprising, which led our organization to formulate a method for creating and maintaining safe spaces for Black competitive and non-competitive swimmers. This formula informed our consulting service methodology which we offer to aquatics facilities, competitive swim teams, and learn-to-swim schools. The following gives some insight into what we learned and offers suggestions to learn to swim organizations and schools interested in improving their outreach to the African-American community.

Diversify Yourself

For organizations looking to diversify their audience and membership, the first thing to do is diversify yourself. Diversify your staff. All levels of your organization should reflect your commitment to diversity; including management, instructors, community outreach, and customer service staff. Making one ‘diversity hire’ in today’s politically charged climate will be seen as a false and temporary gesture and may do more harm than good. Next, take the time to invest time in all employees equally, ensuring they receive the professional development and leadership opportunities required to ascend within your organization and as aquatics professionals.

Keep the Education Going

In our survey, the vast majority of respondents strongly agreed that they wanted to take a swim class that “included elements of African-American culture and history.” Black swim families clearly expressed a desire for a service that is not typically offered by Learn to swim businesses. We encourage you to fill the gap. Your business can accomplish this in several ways:

  1. Spotlight relevant athletes, groups, and historic figures at the start and/or end of each class
  2. Incorporate motivational stories of these groups and individuals into various exercises
  3. Play music and have fun!

Here’s a great idea for adults and kids alike: The Harlem Honeys and Bears is an African-American synchronized swimming group for seniors 55 and over based in New York City. At the end of class, share some information about this amazing organization and have students float on their backs and link ankles to attempt to make a star while playing “Shining Star” by Earth Wind and Fire.

(https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/0000014f-290a-d37e-a7df-af8bd7b90000)

Recommend and Create

Immediately after completing your curriculum, take time to lead an in-depth conversation outlining all of the activities your students should consider as proficient swimmers. Discuss things like competitive vs non-competitive teams, water polo, synchronized swimming and any other outlet that can keep new swimmers healthy, happy and in the water. Also, create activities that extend your relationship with former students. Invite former students and community residents to special day (pool volleyball in the deep end) or evening (bubbles and dancing couples night) events that allow new swimmers to use their skills and remember how much fun it is to be in the water.

For deeper insight into the Black swim community and formal assistance, visit Black Kids Swim’s website at BlackKidsSwim.com/advocacy or email us at info@blackkidsswim.com.

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