How ‘Black People Will Swim’ is Dismantling Racial Stereotypes One Swim Class At a Time
By: Mariah Thomas
Culturally-embedded stereotypes and myths surrounding the Black community continue to persist today. These racially-rooted statements revolving around the physical “inferiority” of Black bodies have the potential to negatively impact the thoughts and beliefs of the younger generation.
Journalist and former swim coach, Paulana Lamonier, launched Black People Will Swim, in hopes of dismantling the long-standing stereotype that Black people can’t swim.
“I started Black People Will Swim out of necessity,” Lamonier said to Madame Blue. “Not only are we teaching people how to swim, but we’re working our best to eliminate that stereotype altogether.”
According to one study, Black youth are at the highest risk for drowning, with the rate being three times higher than that of white children. Factors such as institutional racism, myths, stereotypes, and the inherited fear of drowning play major roles in this disproportional data.
The two-entity swim business and media company launched in March 2020. Before launching, Lamonier set the goal to teach 30 people how to swim last summer.
One of her clients, a young Black girl who was scared to swim, held a troubling belief: that Black people don’t know how to swim because their bones are too dense.
“From that moment, I just thought about how many times do we hear false information or this jargon, and we take it to be our truth because it’s been said too many times,” Lamonier said.
The initiative aims to smash the stereotype through their acronym F.A.C.E: Fun, Awareness, Community, and Education. Through this four-pronged approach, clients can enjoy their lessons in a family-friendly and nonjudgmental environment, while learning about income disparities in the Black community and how to properly care for their hair.
Lamonier describes Black People Will Swim as a “full circle ecosystem of educating centered around swimming.” Their Brooklyn and Long Island locations offer services revolving around teaching clients how to swim and conquer their fears through group or private swim lessons.
One class favorite is their “Go Best Friend” class where you can invite your best friend (cousin, partner, or whoever you want) to join you and bring you comfort while you’re conquering your fear of swimming.
You can learn how to properly care for your natural hair with their “A Breath of Fresh Hair” class. Merchandise and swim accessories such as shirts, tote bags, and towels are also available for purchase.
Clients who become more adept at swimming have chances to become certified and hired to join the team. Later this year, Lamonier hopes to offer a scholarship opportunity for high school and college students who yearn to swim on a competitive level.
“For so long Black people have been shut out of so many opportunities and activities, and that’s all due to racism,” Lamonier said. “This isn’t only a lifestyle but a job opportunity.”
Growing up, Lamonier took swim lessons at a local swim program in Greenvale, Long Island on Saturdays. As she got older, she had to rekindle her relationship with swimming after having distanced herself from the sport over the years.
“Swimming is such a self-development sport,” Lamonier said. “Swimming taught me how to stay in my lane and focus on my progress.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic postponing their goal’s December 2020 end date, Black People Will Swim continues to stay true with their objective: to teach 2,020 Black people and people of color how to swim.
“We don’t want you to change who you are,” Lamonier says. “We want you to come as you are with all the imperfectness and all the blemishes and all your fears — because we are going to help you conquer your fears to go from fear to fearless.”
Listen to our full interview with Lamonier on our Office Chats podcast.