We Swim Too – Sigma Gamma Rho Is Changing Narrative Between The Black Community & Swimming

By: Kymberly Amara

Photos Mike Lewis/USA 

The idea that African-Americans cannot swim is a common stereotype steeped in racism that is perpetuated by systemic racism and a lack of representation of black swimmers,especially during the Olympics when many Americans tend to pay attention to the sport. Across the board, the statistics are dismal when evaluating how many black people (adults & children) can swim. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, about 64% of African-American children have little to no swimming ability.

In an effort to bring more diversity to swimming across the country, Sigma Gamma Rho teamed up with USA Swimming in 2012 to establish the Swim 1922 partnership. This partnership will not only improve swimmer participation but also help to reduce the number of drownings in the black community.

When it comes to representation, the same data revealed that about 65% of black children would like to learn or participate in swimming. With a rich history of leadership and being at the forefront of bringing unique programs and experiences to surrounding communities, Sigma Gamma Rho has intervened to help reduce the negative statistics and connotation associated within the black community and swimming. Under the leadership of national President of Sigma Gamma Rho, Rasheeda Liberty, the organization has furthered their agenda to peak interest in swimming within our communities.

“Swimming is often known to develop athleticism and serve as an enjoyment for some, however above all else – it is a life saving skill. As the international president of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, a unique partner of USA Swimming, I felt it was imperative to become a swimmer. Most recently, I became a swimmer and inspiration for our Swim 1922 program.”

Additionally, the organization touts members who not only swim, but are Olympians. Sigma Gamma (Rhoer) and Olympic swimmer, Natalie Hinds, says, “My love for competition and going through the trials and tribulations to become the best version of myself is what keeps me going. It is such rare air that you are able to breathe when you become an Olympian, so I knew I wanted to be a part of that club!” When it comes to promoting diversity, Hinds states, “Besides conducting myself in a manner that allows younger kids to see me as a role model, I enjoy doing clinics and speaking to minority youth about troubles and experiences they may face during their transitional years (in JR high or HS). I have partnered with groups like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club to do so.”

During competition Hinds establishes boundaries, meditates and listens to podcasts and audiobooks leading up to competition. When not actively competing she minds her diet by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, swimming once a day and lifting weights three times a day.

With a mission focused on social action and to “effectuate change” the organization has bolstered itself as a leader in both educating and raising awareness in black communities about swimming and bringing diversity to the sport. With so many obstacles facing Black people, this is one current that we should be able to swim up against with the help of organizations like Sigma Gamma Rho and the Swim 1922 initiative.

Olympic swimmer, Natalie Hinds