08/05/2011 09:00 am ET | Updated Oct 05, 2011

Summer Means Fun Times on the Water

There are all kinds of people in the world. Some like to live in the suburbs; some like to live in the city. Some want to look at the mountains outside their window; some want to see the sea.

I'm one who likes the water. I not only like looking at it, I like being on it. My house has a pool and I also own kayaks, paddle boats, jet skis and larger water craft. I love playing on all my water toys, but every time I use any of them -- from the slowest to the fastest -- I have to wear a life vest because I don't know how to swim.

I am not alone; many African Americans are unsafe around water. Statistics say that 60 percent of black children can't swim and that they are three times more likely to drown than whites between the ages of 4 and 14. This was highlighted last year in one incident where six black teens died of drowning in Louisiana. While wading near the shore, one of the teens accidentally stepped into deep water and panicked. Several friends rushed to help her. They all drowned; none of them could swim.

Like many African Americans, a fear of water was instilled in me at an early age. It started when I almost drowned when I was five. My family was at the beach and I was playing in the sand. I noticed that the water from the ocean was coming closer and closer. Finally, it reached my feet and when it receded it took me a little of the way with it. I thought that was fascinating so I kept standing there, letting the waves wash over my feet and taking me a litter further out each time they left. Suddenly, there was a wall of water coming my way and I was completely engulfed. I remember the pain of the water going up my nose and not being able to breath. Somehow, I woke up on a blanket minutes later. From that time on, I was afraid to be in water over my head.

Unfortunately, the reaction to my near drowning incident was not, "Get that girl some swimming lessons." The lesson I was taught was to stay away from the water. I faked being able to swim in high school once, but never tried that again. Then as an adult I discovered the fun of snorkeling in the ocean and just lounging in a pool. It wasn't until I almost drowned in my own pool that I decided to take some lessons. I learned enough to be able to be safe in the pool, but I still live on a canal. Whenever I see people swimming in the canal or the ocean, frolicking freely without a care, I know I am handicapped.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had another incident. I was kayaking with my nephew in the bay. The wake from a small boat unbalanced me and the kayak flipped. There I was, underwater again, wondering how this was going to turn out until I remembered that I was wearing a vest so I didn't have to panic. I've gotten a little cocky around the water and I would have been on that kayak without a vest if someone hadn't reminded me before I left home. But I got lucky; I was eventually rescued by people who learned to swim as kids. I climbed into their boat while they jumped into the water to rescue my kayak and secure it for me. For them it was so easy, just like riding a bike.

Swimming is one of those things kids learn easily, and childhood is when you have the time to really master it. Please, get swimming lessons for your kids. Not just for their safety, but because it will enhance their lives. Being able to play in the water is a great joy. It's an easy enough way to provide children with a lifetime of fun. Even though I still insist on jet skiing and boating despite my limitations, I do it at a greater risk and I will always be tethered to a vest. I will never know the freedom of just being in the water and feeling safe.