I only joined the class to get over my fear of water.

May. 14, 2024

“I don’t like water,” shared 14 year old Mekhi, “I only joined the class to get over my fear of water.”

At age 6, Mekhi almost drown at a water park. He’s never gotten over the trauma of that experience. Now he’s taking swim lessons with UrbanPromise—and gaining confidence. “My goal is to eventually swim in the ocean.”

The dangers of water are real. A number of years ago, a sister youth organization lost a seven-year-old child during a swim
trip to the lake. The young camper lost his balance in three feet of water. The drowning devastated the family, the community and the staff still carry the guilt. It’s a tragedy I never want to experience at UrbanPromise.

Shockingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently shows black youth ages 10-14 drown in swimming pools at a rate of more than eight times that of their white peers. There are many factors contributing to this statistic. Our experience suggests—most kids in cities like Camden don’t learn to swim.

Evan Williams, our Expedition Director, offers a historical perspective. “Not so long ago, public pools in the U.S. displayed ‘Whites Only’ signs. Our grandparents and some of our parents were told that swimming for them wasn’t a right…it’s a privilege.”

Being denied safe places to learn to swim, many black youth turned to rivers and lakes to teach themselves. This led to drownings and a belief that water is dangerous and should be feared. That sentiment has been passed down through generations.

We are changing that narrative at UrbanPromise!

“I don’t want our students to live with the fear of water,” Evan advocates with passion. “That’s why I’m committed to providing programming centered in water, like swim lessons, canoeing, water testing and other on-the-water programming.”

Water safety is a top priority! Whether it’s opening opportunities for early experiences in pools under lifeguard supervision or ensuring proper use of life jackets and on-the-water safety protocols. It was Evan’s initiative that garnered our partnership with Outdoor Afro, which opened the opportunity for swimming lessons.

Fifteen year old Yatzari talked about her progress in just a few lessons. “I wanted to do it, but I was also really nervous. By the second lesson, I was still scared, but the instructors encouraged me to swim more. And I was like, you know what, I might as well do it. I’m a better swimmer now,” she said standing tall. “I’m confident.” She pauses and adds, “I’m excited to swim.”

“In a few short lessons,“ shares Evan, “our students are realizing that they CAN swim. That they DO belong in these spaces. And water is a place where they are free.”

And this is why I need your help. Our dedicated team is planning our summer programs. We need to get our kids in and on the water, so that our young people can experience the host of benefits that come from water activity and do so safely.

On behalf of Mekhi, Yatzari, and all our water-bound youth, I’m grateful for your compassion and generosity to assist with these life-changing programs.

Bruce Main
President & Founder

P.S. Check out some of the water related programs you can support this summer. And always, please come visit our campus to be inspired.