Studies show fear is a contributing factor to the extremely low rate of swimming ability in the black community.
ABC 13 News reporter Lauren Compton dove into this issue last year, and her story had a big ripple effect in our community. In this special report, Compton takes a look at the impact of her story "Turning the Tide."
Reporter: Lauren Compton l Videographer: Jemon Haskins
Last year I was nervous and scared in the water. With help from the Y I broke free from my fear of drowning, and in doing so Y Executive Director Jay Parker says our story started a new wave of interest.
"We see that impact happening everyday with these kids coming in they are just sponges," said Parker.
As a black woman, my non-existent swimming ability often made me the butt of some stereotypical jokes like: "Black people don't swim. Black people can't swim." Or "We don't like getting our hair wet." But I discovered it was no laughing matter.
According to a study sponsored by USA Swimming, 70% of blacks have little or no swimming ability. That's 60% percent for Hispanics and 40% for whites.
"That opened the eyes of a lot of people to say 'I need to step forward and learn how to swim.' It also made people to step up and give a little bit more. Our staff gave to our campaign," said Parker.
For years, blacks were denied access to pools due to racial segregation. There is also a deeply rooted cultural fear of drowning. Limited access to pools continues to be a barrier for inner city kids, even in the Hill City.
"If you come up in the inner city there is Miller Park in the summer time, but other than that there are not many choices," said Parker.
It is part of why the YMCA offers the Outreach Swim Program.
"We pick them up from school, bring them down to our facility, they swim for approximately an hour, we have instructors in the water. We're passing on our knowledge to younger children," said Adam Crago, aquatics director for the Downtown Y.
The Lynchburg Y was not the only place to see a change after our story. Reverend James Coleman Providence Church International says he saw the impact in the pulpit as well.
"It challenged them to overcome their fears, and if you can overcome fear in one area it helps you in overcoming fears in so many other areas," said Reverend Coleman.
Even Reverend Coleman, a fierce crusader on the ground, felt insecure in the water.
"I have to be very honest. I cannot swim. I need to, and I need to get that turned around, because it's a fear," said Coleman.
Like me, Coleman almost drowned at a young age. I challenged him to learn how to swim this summer. He accepted. Like many fearful first-timers, Coleman was nervous to put his head under water. But as I have learned from my own journey, trying is the first step to overcoming.
"I feel great because it's a wonderful experience to try something either you have been afraid to do or have not done," said Coleman.
After our story aired I received countless phone calls and went on several public speaking engagements about this issue. Now I'm challenging all of you if you are afraid to swim or don't know how. It's one of those things that could save your life one day.