Winston-Salem State University is once again teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club to offer free swimming lessons to children.

Many of those children are African-American. One recent survey shows that roughly 70 percent of African-Americans don't know how to swim. Statistics also show that drowning rates are higher for black people than for whites.

Dr. Amanda Alise Price is an assistant professor in exercise physiology at Winston-Salem State University.

WFDD's Neal Charnoff spoke with Dr. Price about the issues that have prevented more black people from learning how to swim.

Dr. Price says there are three main reasons. The first is lack of access to pools.

Segregation certainly affected the ability for blacks to be able to swim at public pools. And after the segregation laws were changed, many public pools actually chose to close down instead of reintegrating. Also, if you look at where pools are located, they are still currently located in more affluent and more white areas, so you're only able to really have access to pools if you can afford to swim at private pools, and there are just so few in black communities. 

A second issue is lack of role models and social support.

There are so few blacks that swim overall, and very few black competitive swimmers. For my swimming, personally that was a huge barrier...I never became a swimmer until later on in my adult life, because no one at the pool looked like me.

The third major factor is how chlorinated water can affect hair.

In the black community hair is extremelly important, especially to women, and chlorine is extremely damaging to everyone's hair, but especailly to black hair, so it goes well beyond the cosmetic preferences of black women to have their hair look really nice.

Dr. Price says one myth that needs to be debunked is that "blacks can't swim." Price believes it's more about the barriers that prevent young people from "training up" to competitive swimming. She points to several prominent role models and Olympic medalists, including Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming.  

Price says there are many opportunities in the Triad for people who would like to learn how to swim.

The YMCA and YWCA offer many learn-to-swim programs and many focus on being water-safe...If you're an adult and you don't know how to swim, U.S. Masters Swimming offers many adult learn-to-swim programs...And in addition, at Winston-Salem State we are extremely passionate about closing the gap in these disparities.

WSSU teams with the Boys and Girls Club and also the Michael Phelps Swim School to offer swim lessons.

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