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Diving into diversity: Empowering Black and Brown youth through aquatic exploration and conservation

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In a world where access to aquatic activities remains somewhat of a privilege for many, a few Indianapolis organizations are working tirelessly to break down barriers and provide opportunities for Black and Brown youth to explore the many wonders of the underwater world.

According to recent studies, minority communities often face significant disparities in access to swimming lessons and aquatic activities, potentially leading to higher rates of drowning incidents. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that minority youth drown at a rate 7.5 times higher than their white counterparts. The YMCA also reports that 64% of Black children cannot swim, while only 40% of white children cannot swim.

Despite these alarming statistics, three organizations, Sea Scope, Inc., Friends of the White River, and Youth Empowered, Inc., are making waves in their communities by exposing minority children to aquatic activities and empowering them to become champions of the marine environment.

a photo, provided by Sea Scope Inc., for the story on black and brown youth getting more involved in aquatic exploration and sport.
(Photo provided/Sea Scope Inc.)

Sea Scope is on a mission to create a new generation of ocean explorers and activists. Led by founder and CEO Dr. Allyson Brown, Sea Scope aims to increase diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and aquatics by providing comprehensive programs that not only teach essential water safety skills, but also foster a deep connection with the marine world. Through partnerships with local community centers, including Wheeler Dowe Boys and Girls Club and St. Florian Center, Sea Scope has served over 380 youth in Marion County over the last four years.

“Drowning is the second-leading cause of death among children,” Brown told the Indianapolis Recorder. “At Sea Scope, we are teaching children how to save themselves and so much more.”

Participants not only gain the skills to be safe in and around water but also develop a passion for STEM, marine exploration and conservation.

Friends of the White River, or simply “Friends,” also focuses on aquatics and conservation in Indy. Since the 1980s, the organization has dedicated itself to preserving and protecting the White River in Indiana while also promoting environmental education and stewardship among youth. Today, through various programs and new initiatives, Friends provides opportunities for minority children to engage with their local waterways and learn about the importance of conservation.

Diving into Diversity: Empowering Black and Brown youth through aquatic (aquatics) exploration and conversation.
Kid posing underwater in pool at the leisure center. (Photo/Getty Images)

“Friends wants to help people break down those barriers and create equitable access,” said Kay Hawthorne, environmental justice director of Friends of the White River.

From river clean-up events to educational workshops, Friends empowers youth to become advocates for their community and the environment. By instilling a sense of responsibility and pride in their natural surroundings, Friends of the White River is fostering a new generation of environmental leaders.

Like Friends, Youth Empowered, Inc. is cultivating a new era of environmental champions. The organization focuses on empowering minority youth, as the name implies, through education, mentorship and exposure to diverse experiences. Recognizing the importance of aquatics in building confidence and life skills, Youth Empowered partners with local swimming pools and community organizations to offer swimming lessons and water safety training to underserved communities.

Board of Directors President of Youth Empowered Lauren Warfield spoke about the importance of exposure to aquatics. “It is little things that have allowed our youth to come into bigger experiences that they don’t normally get on a regular basis,” Warfield said.

Diving into Diversity: Empowering Black and Brown youth through aquatic (aquatics) exploration and conversation.
(Photo/Getty Images)

By breaking down cultural barriers and providing access to aquatic activities, Youth Empowered is not only saving lives but also opening doors to new opportunities for minority children. Through success stories and testimonials, the organization showcases the transformative impact of learning to swim and the confidence it instills in young individuals.

Despite their impactful work, these organizations face challenges such as funding constraints, cultural barriers and low participation among youth from minority communities. However, they remain resilient in their mission and continue to seek support from individuals and organizations alike.

“A lot of changing the narrative begins with changing mindsets,” Hawthorne said. “By providing students with take-home material and collaborating with organizations like Sea Scope, it helps make sure we are providing a more in-depth education and experience for the youth.”

Organizations like Sea Scope, Friends and Youth Empowered are shaping the future of Black and Brown youth across Indianapolis, helping them develop a love for the environment and empowering them to become champions in their communities.

“When they join this program, they are electing to challenge literally everything they know about themselves because they are exposing themselves to an opportunity they hadn’t had before,” Warfield said.


Contact multimedia staff writer Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846 or via email at noralp@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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