Posted on August 5, 2010

Families Helpless As 6 Youths Drown

Jamie Stengle, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4, 2010

DeKendrix Warner was splashing around in the waist-high waters of the Red River with his cousins and friends, trying to escape the oppressive Louisiana heat, when he stepped off a slippery ledge and was plunged into water 25 feet deep.

As the 15-year-old kicked and flailed, one cousin rushed to help and found himself plummeting down the severe drop-off. Then another.

In all, six teenagers tried to save DeKendrix–and one another–but none could swim. Their relatives, who also cannot swim, looked on helplessly as the teens screamed out for help. Six vanished and drowned Monday; DeKendrix was rescued by a bystander.

“I stepped, and I started drowning,” the boy said, speaking in a low voice outside his Shreveport home.

The tragedy highlights an unsettling statistic among African Americans like the teens who died: 69 percent of black children have little or no swimming ability, compared with 41.8 percent of white children, according to a study released last spring by the sport’s governing body, USA Swimming. And African Americans drown at a rate 20 percent higher than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For decades, segregation limited the access of black people to public and private pools, and the disparity continues because many poor and working-class children still have limited access to pools or instruction. Research also shows some parents pass their fear of water to their children.