Black Kids Still More Likely to Drown.

I can't even begin to fathom how horrible this must be for the families involved:

Six teenagers drowned Monday evening in a river in northern Louisiana when they waded over a drop-off into much deeper water.

The teenagers, ages 13 to 18, belonged to two families that had come to a sandy bank along the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana, said the city’s assistant fire chief, Fred Sanders. The victims were three siblings from the Warner family -- Takeitha, 13, and her brothers JaMarcus, 14, and JaTavious, 17 -- and three brothers from the Stewart family -- Litrelle, 18, LaDairus, 17, and Latevin, 15.

Neither the teenagers nor their family members knew how to swim, which proved deadly when the teens tried to save one of the boys, who had slipped and fallen into the deep water.

Sadly, drowning is pretty common for African Americans; among black children and teens, drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury-related death. According to a survey commissioned by USA Swimming and conducted by the University of Memphis earlier this year, nearly 70 percent of African American children were found to have low or no swimming ability. And according to the CDC's fact sheet on drowning, the fatal drowning rate for African American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range.

As for why drowning is so prevalent among African Americans kids? It's not that black children are somehow unable to swim -- long-standing myths about blacks not being able to swim notwithstanding -- it's that they are disproportionately low-income and thus lack access to pools and lessons. What's more, lower-income parents are less likely to let their kids swim, even if the lessons are free or at reduced cost.

If the Obama administration is looking for a small-bore initiative to pursue in the obstruction-happy legislative world of 2011, this is it. Given the high drowning rate among African American and other poor kids, providing access to affordable swimming lessons and educating low-income parents on the importance of swimming is an easy way to save a lot of lives.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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