Armani English, 15
Jean Orilas, 10
Dairion Demesier, 6
Harmani West, 2 ½
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Harmony West, 2 ½
Jada Roman, 2
Henry Roman, 2
In the past two months, seven children have drowned in South Florida.
Summer is more than 1 ½ months away and Florida’s No. 1 child killer is already stalking our kids.
Drowning is the leading cause of death for Florida children under the age of four and the second leading cause of death for kids under the age of 17, according to the Florida Department of Health. Broward and Miami-Dade counties report more drowning fatalities than any other place in the state.
But their homes and cause of death were not the only bonds these children shared.
Armani, Jean and Dairion, along with twins sisters Harmoni and Harmony, and Jada and her twin brother Henry, were all children of color. In a region surrounded by water, that put them in great risk.
Black children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children of the same age range, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 70 percent of black children and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim – almost twice the figure for white children, according to data from USA Swimming.
The reasons are complex, disturbing – and preventable.
With access to pools and beaches denied historically by segregation, generations of black families have grown up in South Florida and elsewhere without learning to swim. If a parent doesn’t know how to swim, there is only a 13 percent chance that a child in that household will learn how to swim, according to research by the University of Memphis.
Today, it’s not cost or proximity to a pool that prevents many minority children from developing the skill. It’s fear.
When the University of Memphis surveyed children and parents in major urban areas throughout the United States, they found over and over again that many minorities experienced a paralyzing fear of drowning and injury near the water. Minority parents were less likely to encourage their children to learn to swim because of this phobia, which they passed on to their kids. Concerns about hair care and personal appearance ranked even higher than cost as a deterrent.
Participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by as much as 88 percent. That’s why it’s so important for public awareness campaigns that target children of color, such as the Miami Heat’s annual Learn to Swim initiative that promotes low-cost city and county swim programs and the national Make a Splash tour led by Olympic swimmer Cullen James. A four-time Olympic medalist and the first African American to break a world record in swimming, James says his non-swimming mother signed him up for lessons after he almost drowned in a water park when he was 5 years old.
May is National Water Safety Month. Isn't it time to break the fatal cycle of fear that threatens so many of our children?