With summer approaching, beaches will start to get crowded and community pools will be filled with bodies, but for black youth this could mean life or death. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that black children are drowning in significantly larger numbers than white youth.

According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2010, drowning rates for black young adults and children was 40 percent higher than white children. Seventy percent of African-Americans don’t know how to swim. 

The report found that Black children ages 5 to 19 are drowning five times more than white children. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children and young adults, but the risk is significantly higher among blacks. Lack of access to swimming facilities as well as cultural choices, and not getting swimming lessons are said to play huge a role in the disparities facing black youth.

Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist said, "As far as reducing these disparities, swim skills would go a long way," according to HealthDay. "Swimming is a lifesaving skill — it's a necessity, it's not a recreation," she said, adding that "we need to change the perception of swimming."

Gold medalist Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones was almost part of these alarming statistics. After nearly drowning to death at 5 years old, his mother put him into swimming lessons and now he is teaching other young people to swim in an initiative called Make a Splash.

The Make a Splash Foundation was created in 2009 by American holding company Phillip 66.  It was created to provide access to swimming lessons all over the United States.  Every year, the foundation has a raising awareness tour where they travel to several cities teaching the importance of learning how to swim.  The last stop of their 2014 tour is May 31 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Programs, like Urban Swim in Syracuse, N.Y., are also making a difference. The project was created by the YMCA to help reduce drowning fatalities in minority communities. The goal is to teach students how to make safe decisions in the water. The Red Cross also has a Learn to Swim program to teach children over 6 to adults how to swim.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that swimming lessons could reduce risk of drowning risk in small children. According to the Make A Splash Foundation, swimming lessons can decrease the chance of drowning by 88 percent.  Life guards, swimming with a buddy, parent supervision, and life jackets are also recommended safety tools and procedures that can save lives.

Source: Gilchrist J, Parker E. Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Fatal Unintentional Drowning Among Persons Aged ≤29 Years — United States, 1999–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2014.