Wading in the water

Wave Staff Report

BALDWIN HILLS — On a day when the temperature in Los Angeles never surpassed 55 degrees, youngsters celebrated the last Saturday of Black History Month Feb. 25 splashing, swimming, learning standup paddle boarding and kayaking in the heated Olympic pool at the Celes King III Aquatic Center.  

The center is part of the sprawling 24-acre Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex and the festivities were part of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ Black History Month Aquatic Celebration.  

Those in attendance received swimsuits, kick boards, towels, backpacks, goggle, and swim fins courtesy of ARENA of North America and a complimentary lunch from McDonald’s.

Even during a torrential rain brought about by record winter storms, recreation and park officials aimed to plant seeds that will not only lead more African-American youth to become proficient swimmers, but yield future lifeguards and aquatic staff jobs.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is get more African Americans in the pool to learn how to swim,” Department of Recreation and Parks Assistant General Manager Belinda Jackson said. “Historically and even now, if you look at statistics across our nation, African-American kids are drowning at just astronomical numbers.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day there are nearly 10 accidental drownings. Within those numbers, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children is three times higher than white children. Sixty-four percent of African American children cannot swim compared to only 40% of white children.

“We’re trying to reintroduce our amazing aquatic program to this community, that’s what this is really about,” Jackson said.

Principal Recreation Supervisor Andre Brent, one of the event organizers, invited alumni of the Celes King Aquatic Center to attend the event and talk about how the time spent at the pool made a difference in their lives.

“My dreams definitely came true,” Orin Saunders said.

A 22-year veteran of Los Angeles Fire Department, Saunders was recently promoted to chief deputy of administrative operations.

“All the programs here that kept me involved when I was young definitely paid dividends and it’s paid off in where I am in the fire department. It’s been an amazing career,” he added

An L.A. native, Saunders is an active swimmer and grew up in the recreation and parks aquatic system. “It’s probably the best exercise there is,” he said.

Community Build President Robert Sausedo spoke about setting intentions. 

“You may not realize it now, but these programs can help you create a mindset that will see you through for the rest of your life,” Sausedo said.  

Community Build, Inc. was a co-sponsor of the event as a part of its community outreach.  

Albert Lord, vice president of government affairs and arts programming for Community Build, coordinated the community partnership with ARENA of North America and the McDonald’s lunch.

“We have principals of high schools, teachers, lawyers, doctors, actors and actresses and throughout the day. They have come back to just pay honor because we built this brand new facility over here,” Brent said.

The Celes King Aquatic Center opened last June and is the newest indoor aquatic facility in Los Angeles. Of the 52 swimming pools in the city’s Recreation and Parks system, Celes King is one of only three pools certified by the U.S. Olympic committee to host competitive swim meets.  

The pool has a 25-yard short course and 35-yard open space for activities.

Brent hopes the event, testimonials from former recreation and parks staff and a good wage will lure seasonal and year round workers.

“Our lifeguards make $20 per hour and locker room attendants make $16 per hour,” Brent said. “We need more minorities. We don’t have enough lifeguards, period. There’s a nationwide shortage of lifeguards. “Hopefully from this event, we’ll get one or two more. That’s going to help us in the long run.”

For more information on L.A. Recreation and Parks employment, visit laparks.org.