It took incredible courage for Jennifer Holmes to step into the pool that first day — and the days and weeks that followed. But she was drawn to the water, compelled by tragedy to overcome her fear. Her bravery brought renewed attention to the importance of knowing how to swim, and her efforts could help save lives.
Ms. Holmes’ son, Genesis, was 13 when he drowned in a Hollywood pond in 2014. He never learned how to swim, just like his mother and his grandparents. The family’s inability to swim is an all too common problem in South Carolina — with sometimes terrible results.
Black children are particularly at risk. Thirty-nine boys ages 10 to 19 drowned in South Carolina between 2012 and 2016, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. In a state where African-Americans comprise 27 percent of the population, an astounding 62 percent of those children who drowned were black. Each life lost is a tragedy.
The racial disparities evident in the data are not confined to South Carolina. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that black children ages 11 and 12 drowned in swimming pools in 2010 at a rate 10 times higher than white children that age. The federal agency said the primary blame for these disparities was poor access to swimming pools and a lack of interest in learning how to swim, according to The Post and Courier’s Hannah Alani.
This year across the country, nearly 150 children younger than 15 drowned in pools or spas from Memorial Day to Labor Day, according to statistics compiled by the USA Swimming Foundation. The good news is that’s down 9 percent from that same period a year ago. The bad news is that drowning is still the No. 1 cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The commission labels the problem a public health crisis. The fact is that everyone should know how to swim, and the earlier children start the better.
The racial disparity in drowning deaths became more broadly known in 2009 after three people died when their boat capsized while trying to reach Sandy Island in Georgetown County. The accident sparked numerous efforts to teach underprivileged children to swim, many of which today are easily found on the internet.
Locally, the Lowcountry Aquatic Project Swimming offers water safety and swimming lessons to kindergartners and first-graders from low-income Charleston County schools. These and similar programs provide a potentially lifesaving community service.
Recreation departments as well as YMCAs and other groups also have swimming programs. Area efforts will get a boost when North Charleston and Dorchester County open their $22 million aquatic center off Ashley Phosphate Road in 2019. Mayor Keith Summey rightly touts the potential impact the facility could have in teaching countless North Charleston residents and Dorchester District 2 students how to swim.
Ms. Holmes also is on a mission of her own. With her initial fears conquered, she wants to become a lifeguard when Hollywood’s first pool — aptly called The Genesis Pool — opens in the spring. It’s a tremendous tribute to both Ms. Holmes and Genesis.
Parents should take advantage of these and other opportunities to ensure their children are safe in and around the water. Moms and dads who don’t know how to swim also should find a program that fits their needs. It could save a child’s life or your own.