Everyone Needs To Know How To Swim

“Though African Americans make up just thirteen percent of the US population, the fatal drowning rate of African American children aged five to fourteen is three times that of white children.”

This disturbing statistic comes from a 2013 report* written by historian and former state legislator Ray Rickman when he was first inspired to do something about this problem. What resulted was the Stages of Freedom Swim Empowerment free swim lessons program. I recently poked my head into Mr. Rickman’s Stages of Freedom Black Museum and Gift Shop to confirm that the program was running at this time. (You may see a “current registration tbd due to covid” warning on the page, but forge ahead.)

Step One: Call your local YMCA to confirm that there is still an opening for non-swimmers in your child’s age bracket and for the period of time you wish for them attend. Then go to the Swim Empowerment page and hit “register” to proceed.

To all you White swimmers out there: Remember last year when you were trying to think of ways to show your support for the Black community? Here you go: Donate Now! Or enjoy a visit to the museum shop — profits from Stages of Freedom go to support the Swim Empowerment program.

The ability to swim provides all sorts of opportunities and advantages including scholarships, improved health, summer employment as a lifeguard, and happy times with friends . . . and swimming is a required skill for becoming a police officer or firefighter . . . and let’s get more Black swimmers in the Olympics!

Last year this program put 311 children in swimming lessons. This year they are aiming for 400. Donate Now!

Museum hours: Monday through Friday, 12:30pm to 3:30pm. Closed Saturday & Sunday.

Stages of Freedom, 10 Westminster Street, (directions), 401.421.0606


*Rickman’s comprehensive report — Removing Cultural Barriers to Swimming Proficiency in the Rhode Island African American Community — is thoroughly footnoted with an extensive bibliography. It covers the historical and cultural background of this topic, as well as the socio-economic problems that have perpetuated the problem. Very interesting reading, and of course, depressing.

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