Swimming is not only a great exercise, but also a key that opens the door to job opportunities and unique aquatic experiences. However, for people of color, this option is not always presented to them. According to The University of Memphis and USA Swimming, 65% of Black children have little to no swimming ability. This information explains why drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young Black children.
Diversity in Aquatics is an organization trying to solve that problem. They encourage and teach people of color to swim no matter their age. They follow up with the direction, resources, and people who are passionate about the water. In other words, DIA provides the key to that door of opportunities.
“Diversity in Aquatics is a network of people that care about you and care about the cause. We don’t see not being a swimmer as a deficit; we see it as a chance to make you a swimmer and the opportunities that come after it,” said Dr. Miriam Lynch, Executive Director of Diversity in Aquatics
DIA was founded in 2010 by Dr. Shaun Anderson and Jayson Jackson, has more than 2000 members nationwide and includes a $25 annual membership fee. Their main goal is to empower communities to access quality water safety education and aquatic opportunities.
Lynch explains the current statistics of Black people’s inability to swim is the result of history.
During the Civil Rights era, swimming was among the many items that Black people were banned from participating in.
Going back in history, Lynch elaborates that slave masters manipulated Black people’s relationship with water and used it as a tool of fear.
“We were very adept swimmers. Water was part of our culture, and we participated every day. During the transatlantic slave trade, water was seen as fear. It was seen as a way where slave masters would drown people purposefully to show that you couldn’t go across that border, and you couldn’t participate and have the joy or the religion of water. It was a way to separate people from their roots,” Lynch said.
DIA is connecting people to the water by finding their water-related needs and forming aquatic councils to meet their needs. These subgroups within DIA provide education and activities for water-related interests. Members can join committees for scuba diving, swimming, triathlon training, and HBCU swimming. Adapted Aquatics is a unique counsel among the rest as they serve the water needs of those with disabilities and special needs.
Adrienne Wesley is the co-chair of the Adapted Aquatics council. She was a special education teacher for more than 10 years and transitioned those skills to be a special education water instructor. She dove into this line of work because she saw how swimming benefited her son when he had sensory issues. Her son’s therapist prescribed swimming as a treatment.
Now, Wesley and the members of the Adapted Aquatics council work with more therapists to help children with special needs. They even hosted a certification class to become a special education water instructor at Emory University in Atlanta. The program is called “Sensory H2O.”
Wesley partnered with Emory University’s Department of Physical Therapy and the National Association of Black Physical Therapists to train doctoral and physical therapy students in special education water instruction. The goal is to create more representation in an overlooked space.
“It’s just something that I just fell into. Very few programs, especially Black programs, are for people with special needs. I committed to this role so people can access this resource,” Wesley said.
The biggest objective for DIA currently is reactivating the swim teams at HBCUs. Howard University is the only HBCU in the nation with an active swim team, and lack of support from the administration is the most common reason why HBCUs no longer have the programs. In the past, the swim teams were known for having the most remarkable athletes at the schools. In the 1980s, 21 swim programs at HBCUs nationwide would teach swimming and diving.
“We are bringing back aquatics to historically Black colleges and universities as well as Hispanic-serving and tribal institutions. We know that these institutions are the center points of communities and research, and they are the great community magnet in a way that can help to change the statistics today,” Lynch said.
On December 17, DIA will host an HBCU swim meet for students and alums at Morehouse College during the HBCU Celebration Bowl weekend to raise funds for their initiative.
“We’re raising money to go back to HBCUs. We had a young man from Fisk University contact us about the lack of a swim team at the school. Our swim meet is his chance to test what he has been practicing and represent Fisk University. That’s what it is all about,” Lynch said.