In summer 2010, a story from Shreveport, La., horrified the region. Six black teenagers, dead. Five went in after their friend who was drowning in the Red River’s shallow rough waters. A crowd stood nearby, helpless. Like their children, the adults could not swim. Black American children drown at a rate almost three times higher than white children, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. Swimming officials stress the key indicator is not race, but family — children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at risk of drowning.
Every summer for the past five years the YMCA of Dallas has taught minority children — 60 percent of whom cannot swim, they say — basic water safety skills through its Urban Swim Initiative. A component of the Urban Swim initiative is the Make a Splash program, which brings swimming lessons to neighborhood apartment complexes. In 2011 the effort resulted in 1,900 children in 27 apartment communities learning to swim. The next year, certified YMCA instructors taught twice as many. “Safety in and around water is an important issue for all children, but studies show that there are a disproportionate number of drownings among minority children,” YMCA President Gordon Echtenkamp said in 2012. “The Y established Urban Swim to focus on decreasing the number of swim-related fatalities in minority communities by providing swim lessons to children at no cost.” The Y also runs the Urban Swim Academy to “increase the number of minority youth that are certified as lifeguards and trained to save lives in pools, lakes and waterfronts.”
This excerpt was taken from a 2017 Advocate magazine story about the history and future of Dallas pools.