Paulana Lamonier

‘Black People Will Swim’ Initiative Makes Waves In New York City

Lamonier's courses take on students from toddlers to those in their 50s to learn the essential life skill.

Like many dreams, this former college athlete’s journey to help her community learn to swim started with a tweet. Paulana Lamonier’s mission to teach Black people this life skill led to her NYC-based organization, Black People Will Swim.

Her request to find 30 Black people in New York ready to dive into the waters quickly made waves. After her initial post in 2019, Black People Will Swim was born. Its mission is to not only teach the practice but also make the venture more affordable for her community. Breaking down the systemic barriers surrounding swimming was the first step, and a crucial one at that.

“Swimming has claimed so many lives of Black people,” she said to NBC News. “We deserve to have a space to learn without feeling discriminated against, without feeling as if we have to break the bank to learn this life skill. And, most importantly, it’s really a community.”

The majority of Black children cannot swim, with USA Swimming reporting 64% cannot, as opposed to 40% of white children. This statistic also led to an increase in Black children drowning, seven times as much as reported by the CDC. Lamonier’s organization hopes to stop preventable death by teaching students of all ages.

Lamonier now has a dozen all-Black instructors on her team. At the York College campus where she once competed, over 300 people learned to tread water. Black People Will Swim keeps costs low at $30 a session, wanting to eliminate the financial strain that often comes with pool accessibility. Its placement in Queens also helps its majority-minority residents, who have only 12% of access to New York City’s limited public pool options.

Additionally, the founder hopes to expand into its own facility within NYC. She emphasized the need for a Black-owned swim school among other minority-owned establishments.

“It is vital for us to have our own swim school, where people can come get affordable swim lessons for people who look like them and, most importantly, create that pipeline for aquatic professionals,” explained Lamonier.

Lamonier is part of a growing trend of Black people promoting swim lessons to benefit underrepresented communities. Their shared mission to dismantle this disparity in America seeks to build the next generation of diverse swimmers.

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