1Target your ads. Advertise learn-to-swim programs at places frequented by minorities. In the South Atlantic, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers noticed that 58 percent of the area’s drowning victims were black or Hispanic. To educate patrons, the organization now distributes water safety messages in factories with minority workers.

2Go to the source. Where transportation and access are a major concern, one alternative is to teach swimming at housing projects, apartment complexes and day-care centers. The East Communities YMCA in Austin, Texas, did just that, increasing their reach to nearly 1,000 at-risk kids last summer.

3Collaborate with schools. Experts say the best way to address minority drowning is to put swim lessons into school curriculums. “If it’s at school, the child is there. All the other issues are moot,” says Anna Plotkin, coordinator of Florida’s Palm Beach County Drowning Prevention Coalition. “That’s how we’re going to solve the problem.”

4Hire minorities. Minority swim instructors and lifeguards provide children with role models. In Galveston, Texas, the Galveston Beach Patrol established an exchange program with lifeguards in Veracruz, Mexico. Over at North Carolina Central University, the aquatics department taps black college-level swimmers as mentors for black middle-schoolers.

5Reference pop culture. Wooing disenchanted teens takes creativity. Reference pop culture — including hip song lyrics, movie quotes or local celebrities — to make swimming appear “cool.” In Jamaica, for example, Dancehall DJ Sean Paul, who has played water polo since the age of 5, appears in ads for the Jamaican Water Polo Federation.

6Respect differences. Cultural and religious differences also play a role in minorities not learning to swim. Many traditional, Catholic Hispanic parents will prefer that the genders be separated. Some Hispanics even wear T-shirts over their swim attire, notes Christine M. Branche, Ph.D., director of the Unintentional Injury Prevention Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “The idea is to get them into the water,” says Branche, who is black. “Messages should depict bathers in proper gear, but instructors should be willing to work with those swimmers.”

7Deal with stigmas. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the stigmas associated with swimming — and then dispel them just as quickly. In many Native American belief systems, discussing mortality is frowned upon. To teach these groups about water safety, avoid direct mention of drowning. Instead, focus on the health benefits of swimming.

8Urge parental involvement. Encourage minority parents to take up swimming. Coaches say that more than half of black parents do not know how to swim. “[My dad] kept saying this was a white man’s sport,” says Paul Wallace, executive director of Austin, Texas-based Jordan Aquatics Foundation. “He wanted nothing but the best for me, but he didn’t know much beyond that.”

9Talk in tongues. Producing multilingual safety brochures is a great way to reach minority populations. The American Red Cross recently launched a Spanish-language Web site (www.cruzrojaamericana.org) to provide materials to its 850-plus chapters. What’s more, the organization’s Phoenix chapter successfully implemented water safety PSAs via the Spanish-language network Univision.

10Promote swim teams. Minority involvement is lacking in competitive swimming, too. Many minorities don’t consider swim teams an option. In Oakland, Calif., David Teel established a learn-to-swim class (shown above) for underprivileged swimmers. Teel uses the program to feed his Oakland Barracudas swim team, which is now 50 percent minority.


  • In the Minority
  • Every year, minorities make up a disproportionately large number of drownings in the United States. Here, Pool& Spa News examines the scope of the problem.


  • By the Numbers
  • A look at the statistics surrounding minority swimming/ drowning issues.

  • Fiesta del safety
  • How one town took a stand against minority drowning.

  • Winning the race
  • Profile of a Florida swim program that's making a difference.

  • Taking action
  • 10 ways to build successful minority outreach programs.