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While drownings disproportionately affect minorities, nonprofits are working to change that

racial disparities in swimming
Posted at 9:00 AM, Sep 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 10:40:03-04

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — It's the end of the summer and many people are soaking up the last opportunities to get in the water. However, there is a darker side to swimming that's disproportionately affecting low-income families and communities of color.

Water is something that connects us.

"Water is amazing; it's something you can do until you're 90, 100 years old. You can get in that water and feel all the weightlessness and beauty and life that it provides," said Chezik Tsunoda, the founder and CEO of No More Under.

However, a dark shadow can cover that brightness in a matter of moments. Chezik Tsunoda knows that feeling well, as she lost her son four years ago.

"It's kind of crazy because I only have so many pictures of Yori with the other boys," Tsunoda said.

Tsunoda takes us through some memories of her son Yori, who drowned when he was 3 years old. A year after her loss, she started No More Under, a nonprofit in the Seattle metro dedicated to saving lives through water safety education, legislation and increasing equitable access to lessons and tools.

With many people out there who still look at swimming as a luxury and not as a safety tool, Tsunoda is trying to reach communities of color and low-income families.

"I had no idea what the statistics were. When I got into my research, the first thing that occurred to me was, 'Oh my gosh. It's the number one reason children 1 to 4 die," Tsunoda. "Black and brown children are 50% more likely to drown than their white counterparts, and even honestly, Native American children are even beyond that. Autistic children eight times."

Sixty-four percent of Black children and 45% of Hispanic children have no or low swimming ability compared to 40% of white children. About 4 in 5 children in families with a household income of less than $50,000 have no or low swimming ability.

"Kids are drowning in bathtubs. Kids are drowning in toilets. Kids are drowning in pools and open water, so it's not like you can click it and most likely you'll be safe," Tsunoda said.

No More Under is tapping into communities that don't have the access or financial ability to learn to swim, trying to break barriers.

"The swim program has just started this year, and I think we've gotten 150 kids through swim this year by working with mostly Bellwether Housing but also an organization called Treehouse that supports foster children," Tsunoda said.

It's boots-on-the-ground organizations like this one that are working to change the statistics one person at a time, so no other child loses their life like Yori.

"If you are a parent and you don't know how to swim, there's only a 13% chance that your child Is going to get swim lessons. For every one child that dies from drowning, another eight have emergency room visits and often lifelong challenges," Tsunoda said. "The goal is to slowly start expanding across the US and other areas that need support as well."