The women of Uniondale are on a mission to upend the grim statistics and harmful stereotypes surrounding African Americans and their ability to swim.
Swimming is a carefree summer pastime for many, but for others it is a lifelong hurdle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drowning rate for blacks is 50% higher than for white Americans. Nearly 64% of her black children have little or no ability to swim. For white children, that number is 40% of hers.
Uniondale’s Paulana Lamonier founded the group Black People Will Swim in 2019. She aims to bridge the racial divide in swimming by providing low-cost swimming lessons to Black children and adults and breaking long-standing stereotypes that Black people don’t have. I can’t swim.
“A former vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers said on national television that black people don’t swim simply because their bones are too dense,” Lamonnier says. “Can you imagine how many people looked at that and said, ‘Oh, this is why I can’t swim’?” “
She refers to when Al Campanis said on Nightline in 1987: because it has no buoyancy. ”
Historically, African Americans have been systematically barred from pools and beaches, and have passed down generations to families with a devastating fear of water.
“This is where Black People Will Swim comes in. We solve the obstacles and problems faced by black people and people of color,” says Lamonnier.
The power of Black People Will Swim lies in their mission-driven acronym, FACE. FACE stands for fun, awareness, community and education.
“Our acronym, FACE, encourages our community to face their fears,” says Lamonier.
Thais Brown enrolled her 14-year-old son, Malachi, in the program.
“I’m afraid of water,” says Brown. “I like the idea that they’re trying to break the cycle. I like that the instructors are young. They look like us.”
At 39, Queens’ Margaret Holman finally mastered the basics of swimming through a program.
“In most urban areas, we couldn’t swim. I love the fact that Black women are coming together to teach us how to swim,” she says.
Lamonnier plans to expand her program to include fall sessions to help more students quell misconceptions about people who look just like them.
“Seeing them conquer their fears makes me feel like a proud mom,” she says.
Part of the tuition fee is covered by grants and crowdfunding.
Lamonnier hopes to build the first black-owned swimming pool on Long Island next year.