AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Yevaeh Patrick-Moon, 9, drowned in 2017 while at a sleepover in a Colorado Springs hotel. Her family is urging parents of Black and Brown kids to understand the importance of swim safety.
For years, many people believed this misconception: “Black people can’t swim.”
But why? Author and lifelong swim instructor Lotta Todd is also Yevaeh’s grandmother and addressed the question. She’s determined to prevent another tragedy.
The racist history of pools in America
FOX31 visited Todd and her 8-year-old granddaughter, Eden Cox, at Aurora’s Moorhead Recreation Center.
“I’ve been learning jumping in the pool, floating on my back and rollovers,” Cox said. She’s navigating new waters, alongside her grandmother.
“She loves the water,” Todd said. “I want to give her the skills to where she’s confident enough to stay safe and have a good time in and around the water,” she added.
Todd wrote a book on swim safety for all families, but more importantly, for families of color. This comes four years after her own family experienced the unexpected death of Yevaeh, her granddaughter. She drowned while at a sleepover in a Colorado Springs hotel in 2017.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did an 11-year study that showed Blacks ages 5 to 19 were 5.5 times more likely to drown than whites in the same age group. FOX31 asked Todd — who has over 20 years of experience in the aquatic industry — why this is.
“It’s so historical with regards to back in the ’20s and ’30s when we did not have access to pools and we even lost our lives trying to enter pools,” she said.
“Sometimes the establishment would put acid or bleach or nails in the pool just to get the minorities out of the pool. That makes sure that they didn’t have an opportunity to swim,” Todd said.
“Generation after generation after generation were not able to learn how to swim because they didn’t have access to those services,” she said.
At age 8, her granddaughter is not only swimming against a generational tide, but she’s also determined to turn it.
“It was scary to learn how to swim,” Cox said, adding: “Try new things, just try new things and get over your fears.”
She and her grandmother continue to keep their collective heads above water as they look to sink the misconceptions surrounding those who look just like them.
Where to go swimming in Aurora
Aurora has six outdoor pools and four indoor ones. If you want to take swim lessons or even volunteer in the City of Aurora as a lifeguard, there are several opportunities open.
“One of the things we’re really excited about is we have so many facilities, and we’re building an 11th one,” Alek Raymond said. He’s in charge of aquatics across the City of Aurora.
“We do free Fridays, which is basically a program to give the youth somewhere to go. Every Friday [in the summer] is free [from] 10-to 6,” he said.
Every Thursday night over the next month, FOX31 will bring reports from around the metro area in honor of Black History Month. The goal is to tap into the community’s spirit through the theme of “mind, body and soul.”
Editors note: This story was updated to clarify when free Fridays take place at the Aurora pools.