When Ebony Rosemond’s daughter joined a swim team, she didn’t know she’d be entering one of the whitest sports this side of curling.
“After going with her to several invitational meets, we noticed that we didn’t know anybody there. We didn’t even see anybody there that looked like us,” says Rosemond, pictured top with Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (right).
So she founded an organization called Black Kids Swim, which is celebrating two years of encouraging children of color to participate in a sport that sorely needs to diversify. Rosemond has the credentials to make a difference. She’s a graduate of two historically black universities: Florida A&M and Howard University. She's worked for the federal government in communications and speaks four languages.
BKS reaches thousands a month through its website, newsletter and presence on social media. It provides a forum where African American swimmers and their parents can connect, share information and gain inspiration. Topics range from hair-care tips to profiles on prominent black swimmers.
But BKS is more than an online community. It also organizes events to bring members together from across the country.
Most recently, the organization took 20 young swimmers to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There they received a private lecture from the museum’s sports curator, Damion Thomas, Ph.D.
It proved an illuminating visit, because the students learned why not many swimmers look like them. Not surprisingly, it dates back to the slave trade, when swimming was outlawed to prevent escape.
This has affected African Americans for generations: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young blacks are significantly more at risk of drowning than whites.
One way to turn around this disturbing trend, Rosemond says, is to get more black children on swim teams. That’s why BKS organizes Summer Swim Fairs in Rosemond’s city of Largo, Md. At these events, parents and their kids can meet local coaches and swimmers to learn about programs they can join. Through sponsors and partnerships, Rosemond hopes to take the concept nationally.
The ultimate goal is for these kids to one day compete on a national or global level. That’s why BKS is launching a new initiative called the Build-A-Swimmer Pipeline to foster young African Americans from intermediate swimming lessons all the way through elite programs.
In the meantime, they need to feel like part of a community.
As Rosemond tells parents: “Your kid might be the only one on a team of 100, but they’re not the only African American kid who’s passionate about competitive swimming.”