What’s your swim origin story? Did you start at summer camp? Maybe you learned at the country club? Your dad casually toss you in the lake between beers?
Trish Miller’s near-tragic story is one of the reasons she started SwemKids. On a college trip in 1996, a group of girlfriends found out Miller couldn’t swim, so they decided they were going to teach her. Not really thinking, Miller jumped in the deep end of a pool after her lesson. She started panicking in the water. Thankfully, somebody was there to rescue her.
That’s not the case for many Black boys and girls. Black children ages 10 to 14 are seven times more likely to drown in swimming pools than white youth the same age. Experts point to reasons like a legacy of fear and a lack of water competency. Whatever the cause, Miller founded SwemKids in 2017 to help change the aquatic narrative, eventually leaving her job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation to run the organization full-time.
“I need us to feel different,” the Virginia native says of SwemKids. “I need us to feel welcoming, because there’s this generational gap of Black people who don’t have the skills to pass down to their children.”
Through paid memberships and scholarships, swimmers of all races, ages, and experience can take year-round classes at four locations: the former South DeKalb YMCA, Agnes Scott College, a facility in Walton County, and a seasonal outdoor pool.
Everything done at SwemKids, Atlanta’s largest Black-owned swim school, is intentional, from the look of its full-time staffers and instructors (mostly all people of color) to the marketing (smiling Black kids flood home page imagery). And it’s working.
At a bustling Agnes Scott session, parents walk their children into the aquatics center before heading up to an observation deck, where they scroll on their phones until the hour is up. Some adults are in the pool learning, too. After class, an older Black woman tells Miller how the course is helping her overcome water fears associated with her new flight attendant job. Miller nods and smiles through the whole interaction. She knows she’s helping to write another swim origin story.
This article appears in our January 2024 issue.