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    Credit: SOURCE: MINORITY SWIM CONSTRAINTS PHASE II/UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS, MAY 2010

Math, numbers and statistics were never my forte. However, in our industry, numbers often reflect more than just calculations.

Numbers can tell us how much free chlorine is available in our pools, whether our pools are properly balanced, and whether our pools and programs actually make a profit.

In Prince George’s County, we serve more than 820,000 residents, with 79 percent of those residents representing African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities. So, if the swimming abilities of these two populations have been proven to be significantly lower than other groups, what does this data mean to our department’s aquatics facilities and programs?

Well, it could mean the potential exists for a higher rate of emergency responses to near-drownings at our pools, prompting the need for increased focus on staff training and lifeguard vigilance. It also could mean lower registrations and participation in learn-to-swim programs, prompting the need for additional outreach and resources to support the community’s need.

What does this data mean for your organization?

Over the past two years, our industry has been presented with startling statistics around minority participation in aquatics and their abilities to swim. Nearly 70 percent of African-Americans have low to no swimming ability, and nearly 60 percent of Hispanic/Latinos have low to no swimming ability, according to the Minority Swim Constraints Phase II/University of Memphis, May 2010, study as presented to USA Swimming. What these statistics meant to me and my organization was a “call to action.” That meant a shift in how we prioritize and fund aquatics programs for youths, and making these services a part of our department’s core recreation program.

Specifically, I began working with my team to develop outreach programs targeting minority populations. I began writing this column for Aquatics International to bring more attention to this issue within the aquatics industry. I also began presenting at national conferences to further educate professionals on the need to engage minorities in aquatics programs and services within the parks and recreation and aquatics industries.

Last fall, while presenting with my colleagues at a national conference, we received very positive feedback regarding the need for more information and tips on engaging minorities in aquatics programs. One of the main points of the presentation was to discuss several statistics surrounding minority swimming abilities and also to relate this information to the expected population changes in the United States over the next 30 to 40 years.

This was my first time presenting this information, and I expected positive as well as “constructive” feedback from attendees. Fortunately, most of the feedback was positive. But there was one constructive comment from an attendee that stuck with me the most: “Too many statistics mentioned.”

My initial thought to this feedback was, “Wow. … I wonder which statistics this person felt were too much? And how could they not look beyond the numbers to understand the potential impact of these statistics on their organization or operations?”

After thinking more about this feedback, I realized that I have much more work to do to translate these statistics into more relatable information and situations for our industry.

It’s not enough for me to say that minorities are expected to become the majority in 2042 and that the nation is projected to be more than 54 percent minority by 2050, according to U.S. Census projections. I have to break the statistics and information down further and work to make the connections to real-life experiences for our industry.

I realize that not every community is currently as diverse as Prince George’s County. However, over the next 30 to 40 years, the makeup of our nation’s communities will begin to look much different and reflect greater diversity. What is your organization doing to prepare for this change? Have you begun to look at ways to increase outreach to minority communities and engage them in your programs? The greater our outreach, the greater potential we have as aquatics professionals to reduce national drowning statistics.

So, the next time you are reading or listening to a presentation that contains what you think are “too many statistics and projections,” try to look beyond the numbers and really generate a connection for how these figures will impact your organization, aquatics facilities, and community.

The numbers really do tell a story and can inspire change for how we engage minorities in aquatics programs. Let’s not wait until 2042 or 2050 before the statistics begin to actually mean something more than just numbers and percentages.

Improving minority participation in aquatics is not just an urban issue — it is a national issue. As aquatics professionals, we have the power and resources to reduce these statistics. One lap at a time!