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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Racial disparities in pools remain prevalent as swimming season begins

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Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of pool season, but racial disparities regarding swimming and pool safety continue for Black people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the USA Swimming Foundation, 64% of Black children have very low or no swimming ability, 58% of Black children are considered at-risk swimmers and Black children are over five times more likely to drown in a swimming pool than white children of the same age. 

The CDC also found Black children between the ages of 11 and 12 are 10 times more likely to drown in swimming pools than white children of the same age, and the USA Swimming Foundation discovered African American children and their parents are three times more fearful of drowning than white children and parents. Another study from the USA Swimming Foundation stated 65% of Black children would like to swim more than they do.

Recognizing the data, Indy Parks wants to solve the disparity. However, racial barriers of the past continue to be felt today. African Americans were not allowed in many public pools, creating generational trauma that may have later appeared as a fear of water, said Kim Campbell, deputy director of operation and programs at Indy Parks and Recreation.

“I think the statistics speak for themselves,” Campbell said. 

Racism in public pools coupled with generational trauma led some parents to avoid teaching their children how to swim. Nikki Fleming, Pool Safelycampaign leader for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said there is only a 13% chance that a child will learn how to swim if their parents don’t know how to swim. The CPSC created the Pool Safely campaign to reduce child drownings and non-fatal submersions.

Ronnetta Spalding, chief communications officer at Indy Parks, said the organization aims to have people of color as lifeguards, but the disproportionate number of Black people who don’t swim make it challenging, especially since lifeguards at Indy Parks double as swim instructors.

To combat the disparities, Fleming hopes people take advantage of local organizations that offer swimming and water safety lessons.

Organizations around Indianapolis such as the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis and Indy Parks offer swimming and water safety programs throughout the summer. Swimming lessons cost $45 for members of the YMCA and $68 for non-members. The YMCA offers scholarships for those in need. Contact Indy Parks at 317-327-PARK to learn more about swimming lessons and payment assistance.

Contact staff writer Terrence Lambert at 317-924-5243. Follow him on Twitter @_TerrenceL_.

Interested in being a lifeguard Indy Parks?

Starting pay: $13 an hour

Get a bonus

$50 bonus for 50 hours worked: All seasonal, part-time employees are eligible for a $50 bonus after working 50 hours and completing all required trainings.

$100 Referral Bonus: Current part-time Indy Parks employees can receive an extra $100 for referring a lifeguard candidate, after the candidate successfully completes all trainings and 100 hours of work during the 2021 summer season.

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