OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. — The summer heat drives many of you to the pools. It's a way to cool off and enjoy some fun family time.
However, there's a large segment in our community sidelined from all the fun because they don't know how to swim. I was one of them until I found a group of people just like me called Grown Women Swim.
Yes, it's true. I ran from the pool for as long as I could but now I'm running to it each week.
I joined Grown Women Swim after hearing about it on Facebook. The organization is the brainchild of Velver Lee. She taught one friend to swim last year and word spread. 100 women will now know how to swim at the end of this summer, thanks to Coach V's swimming classes.
"I specialize in the terrified because I was where you are right now. I was 38 years old when I learned how to swim and I was terrified," said Lee.
She says it's no secret why Grown Women Swim is making waves in the aquatics world. She explains how the news spread about her group.
Lee said, "Word of mouth because when you conquer something that you've been afraid of for 20, 30, 40 years, you want to shout to the world. I've conquered this!"
Latisha Guise never thought she'd learn to swim. She's been afraid of the water since her uncles and cousins threw her into a pool as a joke, knowing she couldn't swim.
"I was so afraid and fearful but when I actually got out there I felt very comfortable and she never left me, not one step," Guise said.
That fear among black women is deeply rooted in history and in our hair. For those like me, who grew up in the rural South, the only swimming pool in town was located in a whites-only country club. When access was available, many black women still shied away from swimming because of the hair dilemma, believing the water would mess up hairstyles that took hours to do.
Lee said, "Now a lot of people are going natural. They have weaves. They have braids so there is no excuse now for no one to not learn how to swim."
She says it's never too late to learn. The jazzy grandmother from my swim class attests to that.
"I love the outside. I wanted to learn how to swim and I have grandkids, as well. All my sons know how to swim and I wanted to let that be off of my bucket list," laughed Juliet Wingo.
There's a sense of accomplishment with each thing you learn in the pool, whether it's for your safety or to just become a better stronger swimmer. Plus, learning a new technique gets you applause from your fellow mermaids and a congratulatory hug from Coach V.
For those of us newbies making waves in the water, we're doing something we've always wanted to but never had the courage to try until we found others just like us.
"Once you learn this, the world is yours because you feel so empowered because you have been afraid of something for years," said Lee.
Lee's class is open to all women but most of her students are black women.
A national study done by the University of Memphis shows 70 percent of African-Americans lack basic swim skills. There's also the belief the longer you wait to learn to swim, the more fear there is of the water. That's why it's easier to learn as a child.
Classes are booked through August. Unfortunately the pool Lee uses closes Labor Day so the challenge for her now is to find an indoor facility she can lease so she can teach year round.