A Passion for Swimming Leads to Entrepreneurship

Diving Deep

Turning a Passion into an Opportunity
“I thought of starting a swimming company and I knew through my own experience, I never saw anyone who looked like me teaching.” As Davis began to research, she realized that her personal experience was an industry standard–there were very few swimmin schools catering to people of color. One program making a difference was the Make a Splash Tour with African American Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones through the USA Swimming Foundation, through which she learned several disturbing facts: 70% of African American children cannot swim; 60% of Latino children cannot swim; 40% of Caucasian children cannot swim; 10 people drown each day in the U.S; drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14. The last statistic concerned Davis the most, but she also wanted to know why black children were drowning at around three times the rate of white children, which led her to a study by the University of Memphis. “I really got to dive into the psyche of why blacks didn’t swim.”

A New Perspective
Davis, who had enjoyed recreational swimming with her family since she was a child, learned that a culture of fear kept most black people from learning to swim. “It was generational: because mommy didn’t swim, she may not encourage me to swim. I learned that some of it was because of negative conditioning: ‘Boy, you better not go in that water, because you’re going to drown and I can’t save you.’ Well, you’ve already told the child that they are going to drown. You’ve already put a fear into the child. Reading that study really gave me a full perspective of how broad the resistance to swimming was, what the reasons were, and how I needed to be able to approach all of them in a sensitive manner to help anyone who comes to me to overcome it.”

A Quick Start
By the summer of 2009, Davis received her water safety, CPR, and lifeguarding certifications and volunteered to teach swimming through a New York City summer program. “I wanted to be sure that I was as good as I thought I was. By August I started my corporation. I started to look at pools. I made phone calls. I started to talk to people, looked at pricing. In October I started with three students that I got from a school where I lectured. I started talking to more people and did brochures. I kept talking to people about who I was and what I was starting. By the time I got to 17 students in April 2010, I had to bring on another instructor.”

Creating Work—Work Balance
Today, Davis’s school, Swim, Swim, Swim, I Say, located in Harlem, is in a partnership with Make A Splash. It has six instructors and more than 80 students, and it offers a range of course instruction for children and adults in a private or group setting.

In 2011, Davis also won her case against the hospital and was rehired. “I love my profession and don’t want to lose it, but my heart is here. Parents are very grateful that I am a weekend company because they are so busy that they can’t fit anything in during the week. So, I work full time and run my business on the weekend. My biggest lesson? Sometimes you just have to take a chance.”