We’ve all heard the saying that Black people can’t (or don’t) swim. For some, the stereotype is used as the punchline of a joke or mentioned casually without much thought. But what happens when that negative stereotype solidifies into an accepted fact? Or worse, a barrier that keeps young swimmers from pursuing a sport they love? What happens when ignorance makes it difficult for talented swimmers to get the access, coaching, and opportunities they need to succeed?
These are the questions answered by film maker Stan Jakubowicz in the soon to be released “The Black Line.” In this movie, veteran coaches and elite swimmers including Jim Ellis, Ariana Vanderpool Wallace, Reece Whitley, Roy Burch, Rowdy Gaines, Shawne Fraser and Alia Atkinson discuss the relationship between Blacks and the sport of competitive swimming.
Black Kids Swim sponsored a free screening of “The Black Line” in Prince George’s County on Aug 10, 2016. Parents and swimmers alike enjoyed hearing first-hand accounts, from coaches and swimmers, of what it takes to become an elite swimmer and how the sport is slowly becoming more diverse. Their emotional reactions of joy, empathy, shock, and pride could be heard throughout the screening room. Toni Davis, the fist Black female to make the Paralympic swim team also attended to offer encouragement.
What is most powerful about this film is the carefully told history of Black people swimming. The documentary notes how Africans and Aboriginals were gifted swimmers in open water, even diving to great depths for fish and pearls. Additionally, Jeff Wiltse, author of ‘Contested Waters: A social history of swimming pools in America,’ talks about his research into the legal and socially accepted exclusion of African Americans from swimming pools and safe places to swim. This led to Black children drowning in unsafe open water locations that lacked proper supervision. And these deaths led many in the Black community to avoid the activity of swimming all together.
Despite the unfortunate history, Blacks around the world are changing the world of competitive swimming. Black Kids Swim members and volunteers stayed after the screening to talk to parents curious about the sport. They shared resources and information on where to take swim lessons and how to choose a swim team. Black Kids Swim founder, Ebony Rosemond, encouraged all present to do all they could to grow and strengthen the Black swim community. “There are many opportunities for our children through this sport; phyical, educational, and professional. We owe it to them to make all of these opportunities accessible. Together, we can CHANGE THE TIDE.”
If you would like for Black Kids Swim to screen “The Black Line” in your area please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.