Just concluded 2016 Olympics at Rio had many memorable moments that included the retirement of the most decorated Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, and the emergence of Katie Ledecky – call it passing of baton if you may.
Not taking anything away from other swimmers, two of the most significant performances, in my opinion, in the pools of Rio were by Simone Manual and Ashleigh Johnson. They both cemented their place in history – as the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold and the first African American to be in the US women’s Olympic water-polo team.
The contributions of Simone and Ashleigh are much more than just bringing home gold medals. They became role models to millions of children overnight. As evident from various media coverage and social media trends, their successes have reinvigorated the discussion on why the African-Americans are behind in swimming and reinforced the fact (and busted a myth) – yes, the African Americans can swim!
Simone’s gold medal winning performance in the 100-meter freestyle was very symbolic – initially she fell behind, but she kept at it and surged ahead during the last quarter of the race. What a finish! On the other hand, Ashleigh, the primary pillar of the team whose other members were all white, held her own as the goalie and kept the opponents at bay. The color of the skin did not matter!
As the statistics published by the CDC indicates, African-Americans children, age 5-19 years, are almost 6 times more vulnerable to drowning than their white counter part. What can the parents and communities do to help save those lives?
It is an opportunity for the black parents to tell their children stories of Simone and Ashleigh. If one family in Sugar Land can raise a Simone and a single mother in Miami can raise an Ashleigh, many more Simones and Ashleighs can be raised. They do not have to win medals, as long as they learn to swim and enjoy it.
Years of segregation, discrimination and economic disparity kept many African-Americans away from learning swimming and left them fearful of drowning. But, there is no reason to continue to pass the fear of drowning down the generations.
If we believe our society is desegregated, we should formulate policies and legislations to make swimming affordable for all through public-private partnerships and by making swimming lessons mandatory in our schools.
– Meghna Sil