She's dismantling false beliefs about what Black people can do!
Paulana Lamonier is the founder of Black People Will Swim. The organization was created last March to end the stereotype that Black people can't swim.
Lamonier, an avid swimmer, had swimming as a part of her life for years. Her love of swimming started when she was young. Her parents enrolled her and her sisters in a local swim program where they made long-time friendships. As time went on, Lamonier joined her college's swim team. She was taught how to perfect her craft, become a better athlete, and be an impactful coach.
A study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis found that 64 percent of Black children have little to no swimming ability. Overall, the Black drowning rate was about 40 percent higher than the rate for white people.
"We encourage everyone to learn how to swim, even if you're you're not in the NY area. That is your human right," she told Because Of Them We Can.
Two years ago, Lamonier tweeted intending to teach 30 Black people how to swim after having success with one of her first clients, 31-year-old Yolelda Ira.
"My goal is to teach 30 black people how to swim this summer, and I'm trying to come up with a hashtag campaign. Feedback is welcome," she wrote.
The tweet went viral, which clued the thirty-year-old in on how much people had the desire to learn. With a goal of teaching more than 2,000 people over the years through low-cost, communal swimming courses, Black People Will Swim was ready to take on New York. However, as soon as lessons were about to launch, the pandemic changed everything.
One of the many challenges the organization now faced was trying to find a pool to come home. Even before COVID-19, Lamonier had found being at the mercy of available pool facilities hard to navigate.
"Adding COVID to the equation makes it a lot more difficult because these facilities are now COVID testing sites or vaccination locations," Lamonier said. "However, where there is a will, there is a way. We found one during the summer; we'll find one another for the winter season soon enough."
But with the many challenges came their triumphs. One such triumph that Lamonier encountered in her journey was the support of the community.
"At least once a week, we receive a message saying, 'Thank you for creating a platform/safe space where I feel seen.' It is important that we feel seen in a sport that is meant to save our lives and not feel ridiculed for having curly hair or a different body type/skin color," the entrepreneur said.
Some of Lamonier's strongest influences come from her students. She shared one of her student's success stories with BOTWC.
"One of my students said that since taking my swim classes, 'I vacation differently.' She's now able to be fearless and enjoy water activities and live her best life on vacation now that she knows how to swim."
Black People Will Swim recently completed their 5-week pilot swim program where they taught 50 students from the ages of 3 to 67 how to swim. Lamonier believes that the organization will only grow once they have a swimming facility.
"I truly see BPWS having its own state-of-the-art swimming facility within the next few years. It'll take some time before we get there, but it will happen."
Black People Will Swim is based in Uniondale, New York. However, Lamonier still aims to expand across the country with different chapters so Black families can feel more at ease knowing their children can swim and ensure more Black people get into aquatic sports. Lamonier shares that during September, her team will do an After Action Review to go over wins, lessons, and how Black People Will Swim can become more efficient.
Lamonier said her success couldn't have been done alone.
"I actually have a personal advisory board where I consult with different people, and it's been great. It's important to have someone to bounce ideas off of so you can receive an outside perspective on a situation. As entrepreneurs, when we're working on a project for so long, we become too close to it without being objective. This is where mentorship and advice come into play," she said.
Lamonier says that the organization impacted her life in more ways than she could imagine.
"It taught me the importance of knowing who you are as an individual and how it impacts your business' core values, team, and workflow. Being an entrepreneur is truly a spiritual experience, and I wouldn't trade it," she said.
When asked about any advice she may have for others who want to make a change in their communities, Lamonier stated:
"Write down what you feel is missing in your community. The most impactful people are problem solvers. Once you find the problem, find the solution."
You're making waves!
Photo Credit: Petercov Denis