Black History Month: The Impact of Swim 1922 Beyond Sigma Gamma Rho, Sorority Inc.

Black History Month: The Impact of Swim 1922 Beyond Sigma Gamma Rho, Sorority Inc.

By Casey Malue  | Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The partnership between USA Swimming and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. is a unique and committed one, but also historic. The Swim 1922 initiative is the first partnership of its kind with the intent to increase swim participation and decrease drowning rates in the African American community. Drowning is something that happens every day but is rarely openly discussed. Since Swim 1922’s inception, the partnership has grown over the years into what Swim 1922 has become today. The partnership has accomplished more than just helping individuals learn how to swim, it has brought together a community of people that are passionate about creating awareness about drowning prevention, specifically in the African American community.

“Sigma Gamma Rho being a primarily a service organization, we’re really doing all we can to make sure we’re positively impacting our community,” said Deborah Catchings-Smith, International President of Sigma Gamma Rho Inc. “One of the areas that we identified was the drowning rate in the African American community. So, we thought that was a call to action for us and we thought about ways to address that. So, it has really been a revolution over the past five years partnering with USA Swimming.”

“Even if you are not attempting to achieve a goal as an Olympic swimmer or competing, the foundational awareness and knowledge we are providing can be used to save lives.

Sigma Gamma Rho members have participated in hundreds swim clinics and have become advocates for drowning prevention in their communities. In 2017, the sorority hosted 100 swimming events nationwide, logged in over 1,000 hours of community service hours related to swimming, with 2,500 swim lessons completed and 500,000 laps swam.

Sigma Gamma Rho isn’t just involved with local community members but has strived to demonstrate the importance of outreach on a larger scale as well by being the first African American organization to be a presenting sponsor for the 2017 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships. The sorority was able to celebrate Sigma Gamma Rho Day at the meet and dedicated the entire day to bringing awareness to their members in Indianapolis by hosting a swim clinic with Olympians Cullen Jones and Maritza McClendon.

“(Sigma Gamma Rho’s sponsorship) is a demonstration of our commitment and our dedication to the community and positively impacting our community, specifically around drowning safety to make sure that we are doing our part as citizens to make sure we can reduce drowning rates within the African American community,” said Catchings-Smith.

Swim 1922 has impacted not only the Sigma Gamma Rho sisterhood, but externally as well. When the partnership first started, it had a more individual and internal impact, but has expanded into family involvement.

“Our own members are really excited about the impact because we have seen the effect of our own personal stories internally, but also to witness the impact of community outreach and how we are changing lives of people in the community,” said Catchings-Smith.

Sigma Gamma Rho members that did not know how to swim, have since begun taking swimming lessons after learning that the drowning is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. Those who do know how to swim, continuously encourage their family members to get into the water. Swim 1922 has inspired individuals to learn about general water safety and to sign their own children up for swim lessons early.

While a recent study by the USA Swimming Foundation in conjunction with University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, showed a 6-percent improvement in African American children’s swimming ability, the Swim 1922 initiative hopes to continue their quest to increase swimming participation in African American women, share their enthusiasm for the sport and commit to opening more avenues to diversify the sport of swimming. 

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