Olympic athlete Cullen Jones is teaching children of color how to swim as a way to end the stereotype that “Black people don’t swim” and to promote safe swimming practices, he told ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA) on Wednesday.
Jones said fear is the main reason why Black children don’t know how to swim.
“Hands down, fear is the No. 1 reason, whether it’s children, whether it’s parents,” he told GMA.
The four-time Olympian and two-time gold medal winner recounted the time he almost drowned at an amusement park as a child.
“I shot out of this ride, and flipped upside down on the inner tube, and was trying to pull myself up,” Jones said. “Not only didn’t I have the strength, I didn’t have swim lessons so I didn’t know what to do at that point.”
After spending 30 seconds underwater, he was rescued by a lifeguard, but the experience was enough for his mother to enroll him in swimming lessons.
“What they say is that a child can have brain damage after being underwater for that long,” he said. “My mom said, ‘Never again. We’re getting you swimming lessons.’”
African-Americans between ages 5 to 14 drowned at a rate that was almost three times as high as White children in the same age group between 2005 and 2009, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control obtained by ABC News.
Racism at public pools has also contributed to keeping Black people out of the water, said Jones and Dennis Parker, director of the racial justice program for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Pools have been a space that is very racialized,” Parker told GMA. “There has been a history of exclusion for people of color . . . Black swimmers were physically attacked by White swimmers in these pools.”
Check out video of Jones’ interview with GMA below.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.