Often, some of our most painful stories become our greatest triumphs. Trish Miller, the founder of SwemKids, took a terrifying near-drowning experience and turned it into a life-changing program for children in communities of color.
As she got older and progressed in her career in public health, Trish determined that swim classes should be more accessible to children in the Black community who may not otherwise have the opportunity to gain these life-saving skills.
We are thrilled to celebrate Trish Miller as our Water Safety Champion of the Month this April!
The Moment That Changed Trish Miller’s Life
Though she grew up in proximity to a beach, Trish Miller hadn’t actually been to one until she was 16 years old. She admits she was not exposed to water safety until later in elementary school when her class was taken to the local pool for 2 weeks of swimming instruction.
Trish states, “I was the only black child in class, and the instructors could not understand why I was so afraid of the water.”
Due to cultural differences and presuppositions, it was difficult for her to engage in the instruction of swimming. It was her first time in a pool that size, and she was too afraid to continue. The instructors didn’t pressure her and seemed to be disconnected from her experience as a young black girl.
When she went to college, things began to take a turn. Some friends had invited her to go swimming, promising they’d teach her. After spending some time in the water, Trish’s friends encouraged her to jump into the deeper end of the pool.
She felt confident enough in her ability to swim and walked to the edge of the pool that read 12ft. She jumped in and quickly realized she was not ready.
In a moment of panic, she began to swallow water and nearly drowned before she was pulled out by one of her friends.
This was a formative experience for her and shaped her entire future, Trish states, “It became my mission to do something about these devastating statistics because I almost became one. That is how SwemKids was born.”
Learning the Tragic Drowning Statistics for People of Color
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drowning death rates for Black people are 1.5 times higher than the death rates for White people. The disparities are highest among Black children ages 5-9, (rates 2.6 times higher) and ages 10-14 (rates 3.6 times higher).
“As I continued to progress in my career, I started to become aware that my story was not unique, that nearly 70% of Black people do not know how to swim well”, states Miller.
Once she started her work in public health, Trish discovered that there are a lot of historical generalizations that led to her family’s mindset. She felt that representation needed to change and communities of color needed to be shown as professionals in the water.
Trish states, “There needed to be intentionality behind showing them in the water in order to adjust beliefs around water safety. You are never too old to learn how to swim, in fact, I swam my first lap in 2019 at just over 40 years old.”
Introducing The Freedom of Swimming through SwemKids
With the goal to educate and empower the black community to nurture a healthy relationship with water, Trish began her mission, and in 2017, SwemKids was born. “It’s actually spelled S-W-E-M. Which is an ode to Afrikaans, that dialect, to change that dynamic.”
SwemKids is a non-profit program that teaches introductory swimming lessons and water safety skills to communities that experience the highest rates of drownings. Instructors in the SwemKids facility are diverse aquatics professionals from the communities they serve.
“We can only do this work by partnering with people in our community,” states Trish Miller.
Trish and her organization work hard to partner with local school districts and offer scholarships to schools and groups dedicated to empowering people of color.
Some notable organizations that Swemkids have partnered with include the Boys and Girls Club of America, 100 Black Men of America, and Mocha Moms Inc.
“We save lives. We are welcoming people to a space that they historically have been excluded from. We celebrate every first lap and every big jump. We are welcoming people back to the freedom and the love of water.”
Thank You For Making A Difference in Water Safety
Trish Miller is truly a trailblazer in the world of water safety education. Her dedication to the cause and her community has made a lasting impact, and her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
The NDPA is honored to present this accolade for Trish’s passion and dedication to making water safety more accessible to underrepresented communities.
Thank you for being a Water Safety Champion, Trish Miller!
If you are making a difference in water safety and drowning prevention or know someone who has, we want to hear your story.
Please take a moment to share the story on our website for a chance to be nationally recognized as a Water Safety Champion.