As is often the case in many historically black urban neighborhoods, gains are achieved on someone else’s timetable, if at all. The words “promise” and “unfulfilled” and “still waiting” too often seem inextricably linked to “Liberty City” and “Overtown,” for instance.
But the front page of the Miami Herald’s Aug. 12 edition bore the good-news headline Promise fulfilled. What followed was a story of residents’ perseverance, their desire to honor the past while crafting a new future in northwest Hallandale Beach. The city has broken ground for a swimming pool, 22 years after another once-popular, but deteriorating pool was shut down. By that time, 1991, the laws of segregation had fallen. African-American residents who were kept from using public pools in other parts of what was then Hallandale now could use them.
Older residents remember the pool parties, competitions, the fun to be had at their pool. They also recall the friends who never grew up with them. They were the siblings or classmates who lost their lives because they didn’t know how to swim. The area, far less developed at the time, was pock-marked with huge holes, deep enough to fill up with rainwater, deep enough in which to drown.
That’s how the pool came to be in the first place. O.B. Johnson, who oversaw three parks in the city’s black community in the 1950s, pushed, pushed, pushed the city build a pool, then ensured that kids learned to swim. They became lifeguards at the pool — and award-winners. In 1959, the Hallandale Vikings Swim Team was formed and competed against other black teams statewide. The Vikings’ relay team brought home the state championship for five years straight.
Fast forward, to next year’s grand opening of the pool. It will open in a drastically changed social landscape. But some things remain the same: Too many urban kids don’t know how to swim in this water-surrounded region — the pool can help fix that. There remains, too, the desire to have fun right down the street. There again, the pool will provide it — and, perhaps, float the ambitions of future champions.