#SwimmingWhileBlack: Diving In

Written By OutdoorAfro

Published on Feb 7, 2016

Inspired by Black History, Outdoor Afro Gary, Indiana Leader Yolanda Crocker-Bradley learns to swim and changes her relationship with her favorite local shoreline.


Why did you decide to take swim lessons?

For years, I had toyed with the thought of actually learning to swim. Considering that natural spaces that are in close proximity to water have always resonated with me deeply, it would seem that I should’ve learned sooner, but I didn’t.

After joining the Outdoor Afro leadership team last year, I felt called to take action. I learned so much about the history of Black people and swimming, and the disparities that exist regarding the likelihood of Black children learning to swim. It felt not only like a beneficial thing to do for myself, it felt like a personal responsibility.

African American swimmers at a youth camp on the Indiana Dunes in the 1940's

African American swimmers at a youth camp on the Indiana Dunes in the 1940’s (Courtesy of National Park Service)

Why didn’t you learn to swim as a child?

As a youth, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to learn to swim due to both financial barriers and also the lack of a usable pool at my high school. I think it is important to raise awareness and provide opportunities for youth from all backgrounds to have the opportunity to do so.

Why is it important to your children to see you taking swim lessons?

As a mother of 5, it is imperative that I lead by example and put action behind my hopes and aspirations. Learning to swim has been no different. For me, swimming represents not only a way to maintain my health, both physically and mentally, it also serves as a crucial life skill in the event of an unforeseen water related emergency. Being a competent swimmer can mean the difference between life or death. My hope is that my example will contribute to challenging and rewriting the false, but prevalent narrative that “Black people don’t swim.” I’m optimistic that my children, and my children’s children, will come to think of swimming as the norm, an activity that is a regular part of their lifestyles and summer fun. Long gone will be the days that they shy away from aquatic related activities based on not knowing how to swim, or being afraid of the water.


Beach days with my kids.


What physical and mental lessons are you learning from swimming?

My journey of learning to swim has been amazing, but not without challenges. I am learning in an environment where I am the only person of color and only one of two adult learners present. That can be a bit uncomfortable and intimidating. I’m pushed forward by this thought. If myself and others allow this to be a deterrent, this will forever be the case. So I push through, 40 years old, feeling both awkward in a swimsuit, and slightly ridiculous in a floatation device, wading in the water, head held high. (Unfortunately, in the context of swimming, high held heads are not beneficial, at least not in a literal sense.)



Hiking at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


What existing strengths are helping you learn how to swim?

Coming from a background of running and hiking, I have benefitted from having lead a pretty active lifestyle. Still, learning to swim is challenging my body and mind in ways they hadn’t been previously. It’s physically demanding, from top to bottom. Then, there’s that little issue of learning to breathe properly and submerge my head beneath water. It was all good when I was in the shallow end as a child, letting the water course through my toes and skipping stones along the surface. Swimming is a different beast altogether. I love it though. The water is strong, yet gentle- bringing up feelings of momentary anxiety, then calm. It’s the total experience.

What advice to you have for other people like you  who want to swim?

For others considering learning to swim, especially Black women, seek out options that are available in your community, especially your local YMCA.  If fear has been a factor, feel it and do it anyway. There are communities of people waiting to support and root you on. You won’t regret it. Plus, I am eagerly anticipating moving this indoor pool action to the open waters when the weather breaks, I want you to be ready to join me. More outdoor adventures await! 

Do you know how to swim? Tell us about your relationship with the water using #SwimmingWhileBlack.