'Break the cycle.' - Uniondale woman combats stereotypes around Black people and swimming
A Uniondale woman is on a mission to turn the tide on the grim statistics and harmful stereotypes that surround African Americans and their ability to swim.
Swimming is a carefree summer pastime for many, but it's a lifelong hurdle for others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Black Americans drown at a rate 50% higher than white Americans. Nearly 64% of Black children have little or no swimming ability. For white children, the number is 40%.
Paulana Lamonier, of Uniondale, founded the group Black People Will Swim in 2019. She aims at closing the racial gap in swimming by providing low-cost swimming lessons for Black children and adults, and smashing a long-held stereotype that Black people don't swim.
“It was said on national television by the former vice president of the L.A. Dodgers that Blacks don't swim simply because our bones are too dense,” Lamonier says. “Can you imagine how many people watching that said like, 'Oh this is why I can't swim.' That's not true!”
She is referring to when Al Campanis in 1987 said on Nightline, “Why are Black men or Black people not good swimmers? Because they don't have the buoyancy.”
Historically, African Americans were systematically kept out of pools and beaches, passing down a crippling fear of water in families for generations.
“This is where Black People Will Swim comes into play. Any obstacle or problem that Black people or people of color have faced, we are the solution,” Lamonier says.
The power of Black People Will Swim lies in its mission-driven acronym, FACE, which stands for fun, awareness, community and education.
“Our acronym FACE is encouraging our community to face their fears,” Lamonier says.
Thais Brown enrolled her 14-year-old son Malachi in the program because she never learned how to swim as a child and neither did her mother.
“I have a fear of water,” Brown says. “I like the idea that they're trying to break the cycle. I like the fact that the instructors are young. They look like us.”
Margaret Holman, of Queens, is finally mastering the basics of swimming through the program at age 39.
“Most urban neighborhoods, the availability to swim just wasn't available. I love the fact that Black women are working together to teach us how to swim,” she says.
Lamonier is planning to expand her program to include fall sessions to help even more students sink the misconceptions surrounding those who look just like them.
“I feel like a proud mama when I see them conquering their fears,” she says.
The lessons are paid for, in part, with money from grants and crowdfunding.
Lamonier says she hopes to break ground on the first Black-owned pool on Long Island in the coming year.