Learn-to-Swim Program Creates Access for Black Swimmers in Richmond

February 28, 2019 Posted by SwimRVA

Author: Benjamin Harrell

Film Editing: Gerard Miller

SwimRVA recognizes Richmond’s history with racial inequality and what is being done to give Black children equal footing to swim towards their goals!


Richmond’s Racial History

Black communities in Richmond are still recovering from the harsh, unethical, and divisive policies of the not-so-distant past. African Americans were systematically barred from using the same facilities as White citizens, including pools. Many had nowhere to go to swim, with the exception of a few locations like Brook Field Park.

Even after integration, swimming was not equally accessible for African Americans, as detailed by Tamara Jackson, accomplished author Richmond native: “Since integration in civic areas was now legally mandated, public pools, at least those in Richmond, and in many other communities, would be closed.Now, this reality didn’t have too much impact on many whites. There were private community pools and private country clubs. White teenagers still had pool parties, and young white parents took their young ones to pools to learn to swim. That wasn’t the case in my community.”

 A lack accessible aquatic facilities lead to fear and distrust of the water, a consequence that continues to plague Richmond in the present. Black people make up about 50% of the Richmond population, yet  70% do not know how to swim – 20% higher than the national average. Black children are also 5x more likely to drown than others 


Creating Access for the Future

Community initiatives like the SwimRVA Learn-to-Swim program work to help mend past wounds by providing access to swimming opportunities for youth from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. In collaboration with the YMCA, the Learn-to-Swim program works to give every second grader in our city the chance to learn how to swim through a unique station-based program.

Bianca Smith, educator at Crestwood Elementary, has participated in the program for three years and sees the positive impact on her students of color. “It’s starting to show that you’re not limited by the color of your skin.” Bianca’s class reflected her words in their performance during swim lessons. All 20 students in her classroom advanced at least one level of swimming ability during the 7 week program, with about half moving up to the middle levels.

Click above to hear from Bianca directly!


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The Mission of SwimRVA is to elevate swimming in the Richmond region making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all. We promise to serve as a catalyst for regional aquatics and community-wide focus on water safety, health and fitness, sports tourism, and competitive aquatics. Donate today to help support our mission


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