MAKING THE PLUNGE The Swim Empowerment logo.

Dear Elizabeth,

We’ve never met, so at the risk of immediately weirding you out, I’ll get right to the point.

Last week, I met with two guys — Dylan Molho, who moved here after graduating from Vassar College last spring, and Ray Rickman, a familiar face in RI known for his government experience (he’s been a state representative and deputy secretary of state), his historical walking tours, and his prodigious fundraising and public speaking experience — who, together, have the most ambitious plan for Rhode Island I’ve heard in a long time. They want to teach 30,000 local African Americans to swim over the next ten years, without charging any of them a penny for the service. “Black children shouldn’t drown in disproportionate numbers,” Rickman told me. “African Americans don’t swim; they’re frightened of swimming. . . We’re going to fix it and show people that a health disparity can be fixed.” Their project is called Swim Empowerment.

Now, the logistics of this are admittedly daunting — perhaps even a bit crazy. They estimate they’ll need about $400,000 per year to run the operation, and they’ll also need to secure access to enough pools (lack of access being one of the root causes of the problem), arrange transportation to those pools, and recruit legions of mentors, coaches, and coordinators to help make it all run smoothly. Plus, when they actually get students to the side of the pool, they’ll be battling against the centuries’ worth of cultural and psychological obstacles to swimming they describe in “Removing Barriers to Swimming Proficiency in the Rhode Island African American Community: A Model for the Nation,” the 63-page report they released in September.

Mind you, I’m not writing to ask for money. I’m writing because, like many white folks who learned to swim almost as seamlessly as I learned to walk or talk, I have never experienced a visceral fear of water, had a problem finding access to a pool, or known someone who drowned because they never learned to swim. My conversations with Molho and Rickman have opened my eyes, though, and moved me to help. And you — a Rhode Island native; Olympic swimming medalist; energetic, Twitter-savvy, young lady with a bright smile — well, you seem like the perfect person to tell about their project.

If you are so inclined, you could, say, tweet about Swim Empowerment to your 22,000-plus followers. (e.g., “Check out this creepy local newspaper editor who wrote me an open letter! [LINK].”) Or you could put in a word for Swim Empowerment at a few of the pools around the state. (They’ve already secured cooperation from Brown University and Providence’s Jewish Community Center, but they’ll need many more than that.) Or maybe you could even become some kind of celebrity ambassador for the project. We would really rather not ask Michael Phelps.

I know what you’re thinking. “Does this have to do with the controversy around the closing of the Davey Lopes Pool in South Providence this summer?”

Yes and no.

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