by Ge Allan
"We want to bridge the gap between the swimming sector and the black community"
‘Where we can influence change is in the younger generation between 16 to 25, but in order for that to happen, a number of things have to take place’ says Ed Accura.
Over the last few years Ed has been working hard to create a dialogue in the black community about why so many people can’t swim. The statistics currently are that 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim. Through two films and charities such as the Black Swimming Association, he’s hoping to create conversation as well as promote swimming in the black community.
The newest project for Ed is Blacks Can’t Swim The Sequel, a feature length docu-drama in which he stars. The film begins with an interviewee explaining how his friend recently drowned because he couldn’t swim. Ed himself learnt to swim as an adult because he was fearful of not being able to help his young daughter if she was ever in danger. This experience was explored in the first film Blacks Can’t Swim which also highlighted the racist myths associated with swimming. While safety is a reason to learn, the film underlines reasons why the black community still don’t swim: childhood trauma from school, the effect on black hair and skin and a lack of role models and representation.
Ed says that to help young people become interested in swimming you need to make it enjoyable and relatable, as well as something everyone else is doing. Even the actors who took part in the film were reluctant to film a scene where they are swimming in a local pool.
Many interviewees also needed coaxing to discuss swimming, saying 'we're making a film, it's about music, it's about hair’, before they opened up about their experiences. The reason why Ed is targeting this film towards young people is because he believes it’s hard for anyone over 25 to change, while anyone younger than 16 most likely has parents who also can’t swim.
England’s curriculum states that a child should be able to swim 25 meters, know different strokes and perform a water safety test by the time they finish primary school. But the percentage of children in black and ethnic minority areas completing this is 42%. Many of the film's interviewees talk about learning in primary school but struggling to keep up or nearly drowning. Teachers will often concentrate on children who already have some level of swimming proficiency from parents taking them to classes outside of school. As many black parents do not swim themselves, they would be less likely to take their children. It’s a vicious circle which Ed hopes to break in this film, intervening in the years when young people can make a choice that could change their lives.
For one of the main characters in the film, it is being self conscious of her body and the effect on her hair that makes her reluctant to swim, something which many of the interviewees reiterate. The damage that the water can cause black hair and skin and the effort it takes to care for afterwards is often not worth the trouble. Fear caused by exposing your body also doesn’t give swimming much appeal.
This is something that can be eased by role models as well as older generations supporting younger people. For Ed, it’s about priorities. If swimming isn’t seen as a priority or something enjoyable, swimming won’t be seen as important in the community.
Representation is key to opening up the potential of swimming for young black people. Ed set up the BSA with Danielle Obe, Alice Dearing and Seren Jones, to help tackle these issues. ‘The whole idea was to bridge the gap between the swimming sector and the community’. After gaining support from organisations such as Swim England, Speedo and the RNLI, the aim this year is to ‘have conversations with the community, because we’re the bridge between these two forces’. Part of this, according to Ed, is through the film: it has already ‘made it easier for people to have a conversation about something that was previously very uncomfortable to talk about’. Hopefully the film will help the narrative change for the better.
Blacks Can’t Swim: The Sequel is out on UK Digital Download platforms from 10th May. You can pre-order the title on iTunes here. To find out more about BSA, The Black Swimming Association, visit their website
Ge Allan is the Film Editor of the Radical Art Review