Study: 60% of minority children can't swim

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Drowning is a tragedy for any family, but children in minority families are especially at risk. A new study shows black children drown nearly three times more often than white children.

That study also reveals nearly 60 percent of African American and Hispanic children cannot swim.

Just this week, a little girl fell into a pond in Lexington County and drowned. Ten-year-old Teneisha Smalls did not know how to swim.

We took a closer look at the minority swimming gap and learned what you need to know to stay safe in the water.

At the Drew Wellness Center pool, water aerobics makes a splash. There are lots of African American women and a few men in the class, but only a few of them can actually swim.

"Just a little bit, not much but I'm working on it. Yeah, I want to learn," said Hattie Jones.

"A little, I can swim enough to save my life," explains Theresa Dinkins.

"I was just never able to coordinate my hands and my feet at the same time; tried when I was younger, I can float now," says Betty Morris.

For some it's about vanity.

"Umm, the hair, don't want to get your hair wet.  It's a problem for everybody if they get it wet," said one person.

For others, fear is a factor.

"You just be afraid getting in the water because you think that you're going to go down to the bottom and it's just a frightening feeling," says another.

But for most, it's much deeper than that.

"They can't swim because they don't have anybody to teach them to swim properly, in fact their parents don't know how to swim either," offers Nathaniel Stevenson.

Stevenson is the Aquatics Director for the City of Columbia. He says it comes down to a problem of access.

"Never had swimming lessons, don't have the opportunity to take swimming lessons, there are still cities in South Carolina where they don't want blacks and whites in the same pool, we know that, I've seen that," says Stevenson.

Stevenson also debunks the myth that blacks are physically unable to swim.

"It's a proven fact that blacks, once they get the opportunity, they can swim just as good as any other race of people," says Stevenson.

They hope the tragedy of the little girl drowning in Lexington this week will remind every parent that swimming is not just for sport or fun - but a matter of safety.

"I talked about it yesterday, that the little 10-year-old that was drowned and I said now, we should do better try to get our little ones to learn how to swim, 'cause you never know when they might be around water or decide to jump in even though they can't swim," says Dinkins.

"You want a child to be able to - if they fall into water - level off and dog paddle enough, there's an instinctive kind of thing we do when we hit water but we don't need to panic. And most people panic if they can't swim, that's the fear of water," says Carolyn Randolph-George.

"Swimming is a life skill, it's a skill that once you learn you keep that for the rest of your life," says Stevenson.

Stevenson says don't just take your kids to swimming class and drop them off. You need to learn how to swim, too. If you're in the water, that will help your child relax, and you can go to the pool together to reinforce what they learn in class.

By the way, the swimming classes at Drew Wellness Center are just $30.

You can take lessons at Maxcy Gregg and Greenview Parks. There are five sessions at each pool this summer, so give them a call at 733-8447 or 735-1602.

For more information, check out their website.

Reported by Judi Gatson

Posted by Logan Smith