Pool could be a matter of life and death

If the folk in Scotlandville community are looking for a supporter for their campaign to have their aging pool renovated at the Anna T. Jordan Community Park, well here I am.

The East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission is considering replacing the pool with a splash pad, basically a high-tech, cool-looking outdoor shower.

I guess it’s fun for young children and teenagers to run through water. But, there is a serious problem in the African-American community that splash pads don’t address.

African-American communities need swimming pools and swim instructors because African-American children can’t swim and are drowning.

According to a 2012 USA Swimming report, about 70 percent of African-American children don’t know how to swim. It also reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that black children drown at a rate three times higher than their white peers.

I can’t forget the heart-breaking photographs from 2010 when, in just one incident, six African-American teenagers, on a family outing, drowned in the Red River near Shreveport. According to news reports, one of the young victims started having trouble in the water. As he struggled, five relatives, one after another, jumped in to rescue him. Each one of them drowned, some screaming “Help me. … Somebody please help me.”

Other family members looked on helplessly, unable to assist because they couldn’t swim either.

Swimming in a river is always a bad idea, but if one or two of the boys were able to swim, the outcome could have been a lot different.

When I was in second grade, one my classmates had us all in tears when she brought her brother’s Cub Scout gear and other mementos to class to show us after he had drowned. Several years later a teenage boy in my neighborhood drowned in a deep hole filled with water. A concrete piling was going into that hole.

The question that begs to be asked is, Why don’t young black children learn how to swim? The USA Swimming study said the fear of drowning prevents many African-American parents, who never learned how to swim, from putting their children into swimming lessons.

Also, places to swim in inner-city communities are almost as rare as stores where they can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. When I was growing up, the only pool I knew of was the Brooks Park pool.

BREC contends that the Anna T. Jordan pool is falling apart and that because few people use it now, it is a ripe for closure. That’s a hard argument to beat.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I think: Fix the pool. Make it look appealing so children want to go and parents will like what they see. Hold quarterly swimming lessons. Encourage the public and private schools in the area to use the pools. Reach out to churches to have special days and events at the pool.

I agree with the people of Scotlandville that a pool is greatly needed. Hopefully, BREC will understand the significance of swimming and swimming lessons in the African-American community. It’s a life-or-death proposition.

Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media ralations at Southern University. His email address is edpratt1972@yahoo.com.