Making Waves for Inclusivity in Swimming
Earlier this month, we got together with Olympian and Goldfish Ambassador, Cullen Jones, to Dive into Childhood Inclusivity. After learning about his upbringing, his perspective on inclusivity for himself and his son Ayvn and how he is swimming toward change, we shed light on how Cullen has helped pave the way for inclusivity. His momentum is just the beginning of big waves, as so much is happening in the sport of swimming, as well as within the four walls of Goldfish Swim School! To continue the conversation, we sat down with the Goldfish Swim School – Malvern General Manager and a young, aspiring Olympic Swimmer to learn how theyre using their own experiences and platforms to create change!
Goldfish General Manager Dives Into Promoting Inclusivity, Inspired by Childhood Experiences
After growing up with stereotypes and stigmas in the sport of swimming, Renata Boodhansingh is using her childhood experiences and applying them to help make a difference in her community – promoting inclusivity in and out of the pool.
Renata grew up in Philadelphia, where she had very few opportunities for swimming. She often heard others say things like you cant do that or you arent a part of that group so that wont work for you – lines that gave her the fire to prove people wrong. She and her siblings loved to be in the water, but after a near-drowning accident with one of them, she realized just how serious and important water safety was for her family and others around her.
A new world was opened for Renata when her high-school Geometry teacher decided to take action. Her teacher, Jim Ellis, created The Philadelphia Department of Recreation Swim Team, which was the first all African American swim team in the country and was ultimately featured in the movie Pride. The teacher was passionate about competitive swimming and took it upon himself to fix up an abandoned pool building with the help of the schools janitor. Through their fight to keep the building, the duo faced racism, prejudice and violence, none of which went unnoticed by Renata. She saw what the duo stood for through the process, and it gave her the courage to stand up for herself, and to be a part of positive change.
Through these experiences as a child, Renata became determined to make a positive impact and help others learn to swim. As a General Manager at Goldfish – Malvern, she has the opportunity to help children embrace and celebrate diversity, which she does every day! She also encourages her team to celebrate and embrace their differences – for example, she is hosting an International Day for her team, where theyll be able to share their culture through food, clothing and activities. Shes also thinking of ways to help continue the conversation around water safety, through Water Safety Presentations and raising awareness for learn-to-swim opportunities for underserved communities.
“?Embracing our differences, learning from one another and being more empathetic is what it will take for the world to change in 2022. As my children grow up, I want them to continue to be curious, ask questions, learn from others and share their experiences to help make the world a better place. They are young, but mighty and if they understand the bigger picture of what it takes to make the world a little more positive, I am sure we can all strive to do the same!”
Renata is a true example of the Goldfish core values each and every day as she Celebrates accomplishments, progress, differences, cultures and more. Were excited for the waves that Renata is making for inclusivity, in the lives of her own kiddos as well as the swimmers and team members at her school, and in her community!
Young, Aspiring Swimmer Making Waves Across His Community Through Social Media Challenge
Determination fills aspiring Olympic Swimmer Blair as well. Blair too has faced challenges and obstacles since joining the world of swimming at a young age. Early on, he recognized an unconscious bias and lack of access to pools and swim lessons in urban areas, and has been inspired by the waves Cullen is making to bridge the minority gap and make the sport of swimming a more inclusive, diverse one. He, like Cullen, is making strides in the world of swimming, earning the title of First Male African American to win a Gold Medal in a competition for his Florida swim team, one of the oldest swim clubs in the state. He has also been named the fastest swimmer his age in the region! He hopes his efforts in the sport, and outside of it, will inspire other young swimmers, the way Cullen has inspired him.
Some people believe that they cant swim, so they shouldnt learn how. And other people believe that people with certain skin tones or religious beliefs should not swim. We have to make a change, whether thats educating people on the importance of swimming or opening more pools in urban areas.
Blair, similar to Renata, notices the need for water safety not only in his own city, but across the country and hopes to be a helping hand in making waves in the world of swimming.
One way that Blair is making waves is through a social media challenge! Blair is the brainchild of Swim 50 for Change. The challenge encourages others to swim 50 yards or meters, while thinking of how they can make a difference in the world. I believe that anyone, old or young, big or small, black or white and anything in between can make a difference, one 50 at a time, he says. The idea has been a hit! Its quickly spread and the challenge has been taken on by professionals, Olympians and swimmers across the country!
Through the challenge, Blair came to realize just how many people across the world didnt know how to swim, and that a lot of them were African American. He then decided his goal would be to focus on helping to make a difference in the lives of others, through as many organizations as possible.
“It would be an honor to be a role model to anyone. By chance, if I were to become one, I would hope to inspire everyone to learn how to swim. 71% of the world is covered in water, and every hour of every day, more than 40 people lose their lives to drowning. 372,000 lives are taken every year worldwide. Over 90% of these deaths occur in Low and Middle Class countries. I hope to encourage people to help spread the word that swimming isnt a privilege, its a right.”
Even at a young age, Blair is already a role model and an inspiration, and we’re excited to watch as he continues to make a splash, in and out of the pool, 50 meters at a time!
A Gold Medalist on a GOLDEN Mission; Inspiring Change, Promoting Diversity & Making Water Safety For All An Everyday Conversation
Renata and Blair alike are impacted and inspired by the positive changes Cullen Jones is making through his efforts with the USA Swimming Foundation, Goldfish Swim School, Diversity in Aquatics and other organizations. Cullen is on a mission to help others learn how to swim, while focusing on bridging the minority gap and diversifying the sport of swimming.
None of his work goes unnoticed. It has made him a role model to young swimmers like Blair, who says, My biggest role model in the world of swimming is Cullen Jones. He is my role model because hes not only the first African American to win a gold medal, but he is also striving to teach young children how to swim, an essential skill.
Just recently, Cullen took his thoughts to pen and paper, writing an open letter to USA Today and the entire country: First African American World Record Holder & 4-Time Olympic Swimming Medalist Addresses Minority Swim Gap in Open Letter – The full letter will be shared soon!
“Ill leave you with this, talk more about water safety for all people this is the pillar of getting people to take action, and its working people are starting to understand the importance of learning to swim and available resources to provide support. Weve come a long way, but have a long way to go. With your help, we can make waves for water safety!” Cullen Jones – Olympic Swimmer, Father, Water Safety & DEI Wave Maker
Goldfish Swim School is proud to stand by Cullen, Renata and Blair, as well as every DEI advocate as they continue to make waves – sharing thoughts, speaking up and taking action!
Each of the three shared with us their Dreams for 2022 and we werent surprised to hear a consensus – to be happy and healthy and for anyone and everyone to be accepted, be able to make a difference and to be included in every situation and place theyre in.
Through their experiences and challenges, theyve each persevered, worked hard and made a difference in their communities and beyond and continue to do so every day, in and out of the pool. They acknowledge the lack of access to swim lessons across the country and highly encourage everyone, everywhere, to learn more about water safety, drowning prevention, on how together, we can promote change, make waves and save lives!