Black Swimming Initiative Launched

Aim is to break down the barriers

The YMCA is demonstrating community-building leadership as it joins the volunteer water safety group WaterStrong and a few dedicated triathletes to deliver the Black Swimming Initiative, an effort to break down barriers to swimming and water sports that black and brown people often encounter.

To kick off the effort, introductory one-hour Black swimming camps will be held on Sunday, June 20 at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Clark County YMCA in Vancouver, 11324 N.E. 51st Circle. Participants will learn basic water safety skills and the principles of water stewardship. The workshops are for kids of all ages and their parents and caregivers. To register, visit

According to Sam Cox, awareness director for YMCA of the Columbia-Willamette, plans for future Black Swimming Initiative events are in the works.

 “Our hope is that this is just the kickoff event of something bigger,” he told the Portland Observer.

In response to the national conversation generated by the Black Lives Matter movement and his motivation to address inequalities in water safety education in the BIPOC community, local Black triathlete Morgan Spriggs has partnered with the Y to help teach the courses.

 “Our Black Swimming initiative seeks to expand meaningful participation in water sports by providing a strong sense of belonging for black athletes of all backgrounds, abilities, and lifestyles by supporting safe and accessible water safety and swimming instruction,” Spriggs said. “Growing up in the Northwest, I was always near a body of water yet my family was fearful of entering it.”  

With the help of friends, Morgan started his journey of swimming in 2013. From not being able to put his face in the water, he learned how to manage his childhood trauma and began competing in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.

 “As a Black triathlete and swimmer, I was taught by several gifted athletes who believed in my potential. We are looking to build out a program so others can receive the gift of this skill,” he said.

According to officials, Oregon has the 10th highest rate of deaths due to drowning nationwide at 1.4 deaths for every 100,000 people.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that drowning in a swimming pool was almost six times more likely among black children and adolescents aged 5–18 years than among their white peers. However, if a group's exposure to pools is less than that of their peers, their true drowning risks, based on equivalent exposure, could be even higher.

For generations the YMCA has been a pillar of community-building for black and brown families in Portland and Southeast Washington.

“No person should ever be held back from fully enjoying the waters of this great earth and our public swimming pools, no matter what. The BSI Eco-Swim Camp event aims to take one step toward that goal,” YMCA officials said.

For more information about the inaugural swim camps, call 971-319-3284 or email