Growing up, I called Long Island, an outer suburb of New York City, home. However, I traveled into Manhattan as often as three times per week with my family at a very young age. My parents, both city kids, encouraged my older brother and I to expand our horizons beyond the slower-paced burbs and exposed us to the best (and worst) of what “the City” offered.
Because of that balance, I became a freethinker at quite a young age. I was quickly able to assess situations and determine whether I wanted to engage further or detach myself entirely. For the most part, this worked well for me. I was decisive in my choices and often regretted nothing. Although my parents supported me in every aspect of life, and continue to consult me on major decisions to this day, they never pressured me to do what they wanted me to do. I was empowered to make the right choice for me.
That may be why, despite having access to a swimming pool, which was actually right in my parents’ backyard, they accepted my lack of interest in learning how to swim. They figured I’d pick up the skill when I wanted, and if that day never came, I’d at least be wise enough to avoid the deep end and save myself from drowning.
Or, despite my declining their offer to enroll me in swim lessons, they accepted my choice because they knew 70 percent of black children also lacked the skill. So while not ideal, there were far worse and unflattering statistics for me to bear.
And I agreed, until about 10 years ago. You see, only being able to dip my toes in the water while traveling to the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro and to the coast of South Africa made me acutely aware of how I had limited myself. How, as an upwardly-mobile 20-something, I was perpetuating the societal stereotype that black people don’t swim.
photo via Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports