Video: Mother of drowned teen starts non-profit to teach minority kids to swim

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Published: May 11, 2012 at 5:02 PM

TOLEDO, Ohio, May 11 (UPI) — A woman in Toledo, Ohio, says she made it her mission to teach minority children how to swim after her own son drowned.

Wanda Butts, who is African-American, said her 16-year-old son Josh drowned in 2006 while rafting on a lake with friends, CNN reported Thursday.

“After losing my son, I wanted to do something to help other people, to help another mother not have to suffer the way I do every day from the loss of a child drowning,” she said.

Since then, Butts has taught more than 1,000 children how to swim.

USA Swimming said 70 percent of African-American children cannot swim, compared with nearly 60 percent of Hispanic children and 42 percent of white children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found African-American kids between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age range.

Experts say African-Americans are less likely to know how to swim because of the segregation of swimming pools during the first half of the 20th century.

Few swimming pools were created to serve the black community, so much of a generation was denied the opportunity to swim, Jeff Wiltse, author of “Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America,” told the BBC.

“All children are at risk of drowning, but the majority of the children that the Josh Project serves are minority children, who we have found are more at risk,” Butts said.

Butts’ program, called the Josh Project, takes place at a local high school over four Saturdays for a total cost of $10.

Others are replicating the Josh Project in their communities.

“[Butts] ups the awareness, and that is half the battle,” said Shaun Anderson, a swimming coach who created a Josh Project swimming program at Norfolk State University in Virginia. “Once these communities learn how to swim, they will pass it down, which results in future generations that know how to swim.”

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