Local News

Special Instruction Helps Some Black Kids Swim Past Fears Of Water

Posted August 4, 2006 6:34 a.m. EDT

— Like her brother Cory, 8-year-old Maya Palmer loves the water. But diving in makes her a little nervous.

Maya is overcoming her fears with the help of her aunt, Ruth Palmer, who has made it her mission to help black children learn to swim through private lessons in a small pool environment.

"I just saw where African American children weren't getting the attention they needed to deal with their fears," said Palmer.

These are fears passed on through generations, from a time when many blacks lacked access to supervised public pools. They cooled off in ponds and lakes, and Palmer said they often witnessed drownings. So, they kept their kids away from water.

"They think, as soon as they get to the edge of the pool, they scream and that puts that fear," said Palmer. "The child knows, 'I'm not supposed to do this.'"

Cory and Maya's father, Douglas Palmer, knows that fear has kept many children from learning to swim and puts them at risk.

"The earth is 90 percent water, and you never know when you might get knocked in, bumped in, kids playing around," he said.

Over-confidence with no swimming instruction is another problem.

"They could take water in any minute," said Ruth Palmer. "They could get exhausted; they'll misjudge their distance. All sorts of things happen."

So, she makes sure her students know the safety rules and develop skills to swim in any environment. And often, the child's success inspires their parents to shed their fears and learn as well.