The youngsters lined up alongside the aspect of the pool on the Gaffney Health Middle at Fort Meade like geese behind their mom.

Volunteer coaches guided them into the water and ran by means of primary swimming methods. The youngsters ducked their faces underwater and blew bubbles, then kicked their manner throughout the pool with the help of coaches who pulled them alongside by their arms. Then they floated on their backs; their legs and arms unfold extensive.

The children have been participating in a swim clinic organized by Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority. The group, in partnership with USA Swimming, has been internet hosting swim clinics and different occasions across the nation for 5 years to deal with the massive variety of African-Individuals who can’t swim and generally drown. They named the initiative Swim 1922 as a tribute to the 12 months the sorority was based.

Sixty-four p.c of African-American kids can’t swim; they drown at a fee practically 3 times larger than their white friends, in accordance with USA Swimming, the nationwide governing physique for the game.

O’Neill Cornish, 9, left, of Capitol Top, and different starting swimmers study to blow bubbles in water throughout a lesson. (Kenneth L. Lam/The Baltimore Solar)

In Maryland, the disparity in drowning is just not as nice. One in all each 100,000 white individuals died by drowning in 2012 in comparison with 1.three of each 100,000 African-Individuals, in accordance with the Maryland Well being Division. The Sigma Gamma Rho initiative is a part of a broader effort by USA Swimming to extend the game’s range.


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The nationwide disparity in drownings has been an issue for a while, one which many various organizations have tried to deal with and the Facilities for Illness Management has tracked.

The disparities are most pronounced in swimming pool drownings. African-Individuals ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming swimming pools at charges 5.5 occasions larger than whites, in accordance with the CDC. African-American kids ages 11 to 12 are at even better danger; they drown in swimming swimming pools at charges 10 occasions that of peer whites.

“Mother and father are taking their children to swimming pools and the seashore and so lots of them don’t know how you can swim,” mentioned Barbara Sawyer, president of the Baltimore chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho. “Something may occur whereas they’re within the water.”

Sigma Gamma Rho surveyed three,200 ladies in its group in 2012 to attempt to study why African-Individuals aren’t swimming at larger charges.

The sorority discovered a few of its members had unhealthy experiences as kids, both near-drownings or being thrown into the water unexpectedly. Others have been frightened concerning the further work concerned with African-American ladies’s hair care, whereas others mentioned swim classes value an excessive amount of.

Different analysis has discovered historic influences such because the previous segregation of public swimming pools, which African-Individuals as soon as have been forbidden to make use of. Even after the tip of formal segregation, many black individuals mentioned they have been made to really feel unwelcome at municipal swimming pools. Many additionally couldn’t afford the personal pool golf equipment that many whites joined after desegregation.

“Swimming as a talent, as a recreation, as a sport and as a social exercise has been handed down generationally amongst white Individuals,” mentioned Jeff Wiltse, a professor of historical past on the College of Montana and creator of the ebook “Contested Waters: A Social Historical past of Swimming Swimming pools in America.” “This wasn’t the case with African-Individuals.”

Olympic medalist Maritza Correia McClendon, heart, the primary black feminine swimmer on the 2004 U.S. Olympic staff, lets Maddox Cherry, eight, left, of Clarksburg, Md., and his sister Mila, 6, put on her Olympic medals.

In Baltimore, 4M Swim and Recreation Inc. has taught generations of black kids to swim. Ebony Rosemond began Black Youngsters Swim in Largo, after noticing the dearth of range at her daughter’s swim meets. The group promotes swimming amongst African-Individuals and has an internet site that features hair care, water security ideas and articles on well-known black swimmers.


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“We began the group to teach dad and mom and promote the game to children,” Rosemond mentioned. “We wish to present African-American kids there are others who appear to be them who’re excelling within the sport.”

Sigma Gamma Rho, utilizing volunteer coaches offered by USA Swimming, began out educating black moms who they hoped would additionally need their kids to study to swim. If a guardian can’t swim, there’s solely a 19 p.c likelihood little one in that family will study to swim, in accordance with USA Swimming.

The sorority then started holding clinics to show kids as properly. Formal swimming classes can scale back the probability of childhood drowning by 88 p.c, in accordance with USA Swimming.

“It’s about getting extra individuals into the pool,” mentioned Dawne Stanton, president of the Silver Spring alumni chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, which sponsored the Fort Meade clinic. “It’s about water security and saving individuals’s lives.”