Saving Lives In South Miami, One Pool At A Time
It's hot out. The usual midday thunderstorm has just passed, and the few kids hanging out on bleachers around the pool at Miami's Ransom Everglades School finally get the go-ahead to jump in and cool off.
Eight-year-old Gary Kendrick and the others are all here for swim lessons.
"They told us to hold on to the wall and kick our feet and, like, move our arms," Kendrick says. "When I had to swim to one of the counselors, I was really swimming. I ain't even know I was moving."
Kendrick doesn't have the technique of an Olympic swimmer, but he can make it to the side of a pool if he's pushed, falls in, or just wants to cool off.
Kendrick is one of a handful of kids from South Miami to get free swim lessons at Ransom Everglades, a private school with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The kids — all over the age of 8, all black — are bused over from South Miami's community center once a week.
"You know, we have populations of people who lack basic swim skills," says Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gilchrist has spent much of her career researching drownings. Overall, she says, black children drown at a much higher rate than other kids.
"In swimming pools ... presumably, you know where the bottom is, you know where the sides are," she says. "And so one would think that with basic swim skills it should be difficult for an older child or teen to drown in a swimming pool. And yet that's what we were seeing among African-Americans."
Swimming pool drowning rates among school-aged black children are more than five times higher than they are among white kids the same age.
Why? There are many reasons, but one big one ...
"Kids who are living in public housing, growing up where finance is a real problem, single-mother households, opportunities for just having access to a pool are limited," says Simon Codrington Jr. from the South Miami Community Advisory Committee.
Codrington is an advocate for the large black community there and says low-income kids simply aren't getting the opportunity to learn basic swimming skills. The closest public pool is three miles away, and Codrington says that's just too far.
"A single mother who relies on public transportation to get around, 9 times out of 10, she's not making a lot of trips," Codrington says.
After four decades of work to get a pool built, Codrington is finally getting one, in the heart of South Miami.
At the site, the pool's concrete basin has been poured, but everything else is just mud. Construction workers dart around in the midafternoon drizzle.
"This is the pool. This is the pool that's coming out of the ground right before your face," Codrington says. "Now let me show you something."
This pool, he points out, will be smaller than the one at Ransom Everglades where Gary Kendrick is learning to swim. It will have fewer lap lanes, and it will be shallower.
Codrington calls it a "mixed bag." He wishes the new pool were bigger — to accommodate things like swim meets and lifeguard lessons. But he's satisfied knowing that it'll be a place where neighborhood kids can learn to swim.
"This is going to save a lot of lives just as it is. It's going to save a lot of children from drowning," he says.
Kids looking to cool off during the summer won't have to wait too long. The new pool in South Miami is set to open by the time school's out next summer.
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