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70% of African Americans do not know how to swim.

Release of Swim Empowerment’s Report: “Removing Barriers to Swimming Proficiency in the Rhode Island African American Community”

swim empowerment-family[Providence] Swim Empowerment has released an important report on ways to eliminate the obstacles that prevent African Americans in Rhode Island from becoming swimmers. The report is titled “Removing Barriers to Swimming Proficiency in the Rhode Island African American Community.” This research provides a comprehensive outline of the economic, cultural, and psychological barriers that prevent minorities in Rhode Island from learning how to swim and presents a comprehensive plan to teach 30,000 Rhode Islander’s how to swim over the course of 10 years.
The report explains that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children in the United States. The US has almost 3,500 accidental drownings every year, almost 10 a day. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fatal drowning rate of African American children aged 5-14 is three times that of white children. This startling statistic may be attributed to the fact that 70% of African Americans do not know how to swim. Swim Empowerment seeks to change these numbers by giving Rhode Island youth direct access to the resources they need to learn how to swim: transportation, open pools, and highly qualified culturally-sensitive swimming instructors.
Swim Empowerment’s mission is to create a new generation of swimmers in the African American Rhode Island community and to provide all Rhode Island children with the opportunity to learn how to swim. It will accomplish this ambitious goal by teaching 3,000 Rhode Islanders to swim each year over the course of 10 years so that 30,000 Rhode Islanders will be proficient swimmers.
Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, has given his full support to Swim Empowerment’s initiative. In the foreword to our report he remarks, “It is with pleasure and pride that I add my voice to this report’s call for action, to the undertaking of Swim Empowerment.” While he acknowledges that “the factors that may preclude an individual from swimming are many, complex, and frequently specific to minority and low-income communities,” he insists that barriers to equal participation in this sport are “not insurmountable.” Dr. Fine also notes that swimming is not only a life-saving skill, “Swimming is also freedom.”
ray rickmanFormer State Representative Ray Rickman, President of Swim Empowerment, was inspired to combat the disparity in drowning rates for African Americans after he saw many young men and women drown due to the inability to swim, which he insists should be a basic life skill. In the preface to Swim Empowerment’s report Rickman relates a particularly tragic anecdote about a mother whose son drowned 22 years ago in Rhode Island’s Lincoln Woods State Park. Rickman, then a State Representative from College Hill in Providence, promised this mother that he would do something about the inordinate drowning rate among African American children. Throughout the last two decades Rickman has been involved in a number of important civic initiatives to improve Rhode Island’s communities. However, the time has come for him to turn his full attention to teaching young African Americans how to swim. “Twenty-two years later I am as good as my word,” he writes in the preface to the report. Rickman describes Swim Empowerment as “the major undertaking of my life.” He hopes that all Rhode Islanders will get deeply involved to show that together “we can value each of our citizens equally” by promoting swimming, which is not only a life-saving skill but also an excellent opportunity for physical fitness. “Please join us,” Rickman writes. “After all, I promised a mother.”
Dylan Molho, Project Director of Swim Empowerment, stated at a recent gathering of state and local public officials: “This problem we’re trying to solve is a complex one with a long history. While opening up pools and offering free swimming lessons is necessary, our real goal is creating a change in the culture where swimming is seen as a life-skill that everyone should learn. We are going to need the entire state to be behind us in this endeavor.”
Swim Empowerment’s has relied on small private donations and a grant from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. It will seek major funding from local and national foundations to finance this ten-year program and will secure donations from community members. Roughly $20,000 has been spent on this initiative and $40,000 more will be needed to train instructors and lifeguards. The swimming lessons are set to begin in the June of 2014 and are expected to cost $300,000 each of the 10 years.
Today, Thursday, September 26, Swim Empowerment officially presented its report on the barriers to swimming and the methods of overcoming them. The full report was released at the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University and to public officials and the media. Swim Empowerment knows all Rhode Islanders will be as invested as them in preventing accidental drownings in Rhode Island’s African American community and it hopes you will support Swim Empowerment in this important initiative.

For more information, contact Project Director Dylan Molho at (401) 421-0606 or swimempowerment@gmail.com

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