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Program launches in remembrance of KCKPS teen who died by drowning last year

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Posted at 6:31 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 19:31:31-05

KANSAS CITY, Ks — Several Kansas City groups are working together on a program to teach kids to swim, in remembrance of one who drowned last summer.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, are launching “Learn to Swim," a program created to honor Emmanuel Solomon, who was 13 years old when he drowned.

The pilot program has launched for spring and fall of 2022 to serve 400 children from KCKPS.

Children will be able to learn to swim at no cost as part of the district’s before and after school program. All agencies involved hope to see the pilot grow into a sustainable three to five year program.

Conversations are underway but funding is an issue.

“We hope it turns into hundreds of thousands of kids into the future and just eliminates drowning in the Kansas City area,” YMCA of Greater Kansas City’s senior vice president of operations Garry Linn said.

Superintendent of KCKPS, Dr. Anna Stubblefield, said 70% of African American children do not know how to swim. That number is 62% among Hispanic children and 40% among Caucasian children.

"As a Black American, I feel like it’s my duty. And it’s been my duty since I won this first medal,” guest speaker and U.S. Men’s Swim Team Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones said.

Jones has made it his life mission to prevent accidental drownings by encouraging and educating the public on the importance of learning how to swim.

He said much of that starts with breaking down generational and cultural barriers that began to form during days of the civil rights movement.

“The hotel owner pouring bleach because black skin was in the pool — they thought they had to clean the pool with bleach as the people were in the pool. It was one of the key reasons why the Civil Rights movement actually started,” Jones said. “It’s lack of education, lack of access but more importantly, the family structure is broken when the family believes water is just something they don’t do.”