High Drowning Rates For Blacks, Hispanics Worry NC Officials

AP, June 12, 2006

RALEIGH, N.C.—A trip to the beach or lake is often the focus of a summer day’s fun. But it can end tragically as well when swimmers overestimate their skill—and statistics show that some minority groups are at greater risk of drowning.

Experts believe that cultural or economic reasons may put blacks and Hispanics in greater danger when it comes to swimming.

“Black people don’t get into the water,” said Linda Boose, whose 8-year-old granddaughter, Jasmine, drowned in Falls Lake during Memorial Day weekend. “We were too poor to even think about the water.”

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Thornton Draper, the aquatics director at North Carolina Central University, said the higher minority drowning rate has more to do with economics, access and exposure to swimming than with race.

He said pools are expensive to build and maintain, so poorer schools or neighborhoods may not insist they be built. Swimming lessons can be expensive, and opportunities to practice may be sporadic at outdoor community pools that are only opened seasonally.

Linda Boose, who raised her granddaughter from infancy, said she doesn’t swim and Jasmine did not swim very well.

That inability—and accompanying discomfort—may be passed down from generation to generation, said Joshua Jonassaint, a swim instructor with the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department.

He said he has noticed that many black children are initially uncomfortable in the water.

“A good majority of them don’t know how to swim and are very hesitant to take lessons,” Jonassaint said.

Draper and NCCU assistant professor Kaky McPeak are working on a survey to identify how well people really swim versus how well they think they swim.

“People perceive (swimming) to be much easier than it actually is,” he said.

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