He can’t swim, Dad saves him.

9780545331807_custom-191c053c4e0c36b2cfa4b151999eaecdefdc1e5d-s2-c85Jim Michonski,
Virginia Beach, VA.

I grew up in a military family. The March on Washington happened when I was two years old. We mostly lived outside of the US until I was nine. I don’t have memories of and was not exposed to the racial turmoil of the 1960’s. One of the strongest experiences that gave me insight into what it meant to be black happened a couple years after moving back to the States. The community I lived in had no public pools. The only pool available for the civilian community was part of a social club. The club was for the most part segregated. At that time there was no explicit discriminatory racial policy but it seemed implied. Membership dues kept most people from joining.

My father coached and played sports. One year at the end of the baseball season he had a pool party for the baseball all-stars on the military base where he worked. The social club pool was not available in part, I believe, because there would be black boys attending the party. One black boy, a very athletic and talented ball player, who was also very polite and well liked, decided he would dive off the board on the deep end of the pool. He did this once or twice. We didn’t notice that as he jumped his momentum carried him to the shallow end where he could touch bottom. He couldn’t swim but we didn’t notice. A little later he dove again. This time he took too steep an angle and didn’t make it to the shallow end. He started flailing in the water. Several adults, including my father, jumped in to save him. In the aftermath I learned why he couldn’t swim. The reason was segregation and discrimination concerning public pools. We almost lost a great kid because there was no place for him to learn how to swim. I was introduced to racial discrimination in deeply personal and scary way. A peer almost drowned because of it. I also learned there are many of all races that found ways to get around the ingrained racial culture of the community.

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