Boston to expand free swim lesson program

BOSTON – Boston is preparing to expand a program that saves lives on the water. The city launched the Swim Safely Partnership to help teach more people of color to swim.

According to USA Swimming, 70% of black people cannot swim.

“I think some of those early hurdles were access,” said Kathryn Saunders, executive director of the Roxbury YMCA. “Access to a real swimming pool, access to maybe beaches, to be comfortable and to be welcomed in these environments.”

The Swim Safely Partnership offers free swim lessons at Boston-area YMCAs, especially for people who have always faced economic and logistical barriers to swimming safety training.

According to the CDC, drowning deaths for blacks are 1.5 times higher than for whites and for black children ages 10-14 they are 3.6 times higher. The number of drownings specifically in swimming pools climbs to 7.6 times more.

“I heard that hotels, beaches, various community centers were literally not welcoming to black people, and I think over time you believe it and you don’t go there and you don’t swim “, said Saunders.

Then there is the issue of swimming caps. Regular swim caps are latex, but they’re not always the best for people who use a lot of products in their hair, have bigger braids or weaves. The program uses Soul Caps. They are bigger and better for people from different backgrounds and hair textures.

“We’ve had these conversations many, many times about ‘here’s shampoos you can use or maybe have your hair this way so you can put on a cap,'” Saunders said.

Although she grew up in Cape Verde, African islands surrounded by water, Erica Depina only learned to swim in 11th grade in America. She is now a well-known swimming instructor at the Roxbury YMCA.

“Swimming is a life skill,” Depina said. “I appreciate knowing how to do this, and I’ve tried to teach as many people as possible.”

The program originally had room for 300 children and adults. They have just received more funding and will now expand to serve 600 people.