Mercedes Wilson says learning to swim is a very serious issue in the black community and longstanding issue of race and class have meant that pools are either not present in the black communities or are very poorly maintained. Parents who can’t swim are less likely to have children who can swim or encourage your children to learn, and Emily spoke with author Johnny Christmas. He’s hoping his new graphic novel, “Swim Team” can help encourage young African American children to get in the pool and learn to swim.
When asked what his inspiration was for this book, Johnny says, “When I was a young person, I was five years old I fell into the swimming pool and almost drowned and that experience always stayed with me and I couldn’t quite shake it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started taking adult swim classes, and kind of learning to be more comfortable in the water and I started talking to other people about it when I started trying to craft a story around them because I just could shake it. I would tell them about my story and Brie’s story, and they would tell me that this was their story, that they had a situation near the pool or they knew someone where this happened near the pool. Then of course you start looking at statistics, and you know just seeing black youngsters are eight times more likely than their white friends to drown in a swimming pool. And it is all about access because when I was five years old, I didn’t build swimming pools, I had no say in where they were built and who had access to them and where they were. There weren’t any in my neighborhood, I can tell you now where they are in any part of Miami, so they that was the impedance to do the story out of my own personal experience and then I wanted I wanted to tell a really fun story about new adventures, coming to a new town and being a middle schooler fighting her own kind of anxieties and worries and then of course, the joys and challenges of team sport as well.”
Johnny Christmas says the book started from the inside out; he says “it was just a very personal thing to me that I was building you know, and then starting to see how much larger it could be with the research, that it wasn’t just my story, and it wasn’t anecdotally, my friend’s story, it was a larger story, so I hope that it can help, in some way that it could be of use. You know, that’s the main thing because I’ve done other stories that are a lot of entertainment and action, those are really great too but this is the one that I love best because I think it’s something that could be most of use, you know, it’s the one that speaks to the kid that I once was, to a kid that’s out there, to an adult that out there you know that iteration is important to you, you have to try it again and again and again and again that you can learn these things and that combating one’s fears is something that can be done. It takes little steps, tiny little steps in the right direction and hopefully we can do that. I think about my nieces and I think about my nephews and I think about those youngsters and that is kind of what I am thinking about right now and the kid, that I once was as well.”
When asked what the message you most want to get out there, Johnny says, “If you are a young person who doesn’t know how to swim, you can lean to swim. It’s not your fault. But the other main lesson is to try and try and try again, don’t be afraid to try things, don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to have people see you fail. You have to fail to succeed, that’s just part of life and to get comfortable with the road, get comfortable with the journey because once you are on the road, once you are on the journey you can make it your own, you don’t have to sing like Mariah Carey, you just have to sing like you. And if you can do that and enjoy it and own it life just becomes a whole lot sweeter.”
He ends it with saying, “I just want to say my thoughts are with you and your city and what you guys are going through right now. It shouldn’t happen to anybody.”
You can find Swim Team wherever books are sold.