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Click here to read the article Stan Hochman wrote about Parting the Waters.

Posted on Mon, Jul. 20, 2009

Stan Hochman: Timely story of race & fear in swimming world

By Stan Hochman
Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News Sports Columnist
YOU WANT NUMBERS, you get numbers, bleak, grim statistics. Black and Latino kids from the ages of 5 to 14 drown 2.6 times more often than white kids.

Many of them can’t swim, because their parents couldn’t swim. They wait outside a pool till 5 o’clock when the lifeguard is gone and there’s no admission charge, and they wander into the deep water . . . or they pick some remote creek or pond or lake . . . no lifeguard, no fee, no chance!

You want another number? How about, only 1 percent of the 300,000 competitive swimmers in the U.S. of A. are African-American or Latino.

Writer Jenny Levison and director Josh Waletzky are finishing a documentary called “Parting the Waters” that takes a long, hard look at those numbers and the reasons behind them, a jumbled mosaic of fear and myth and racism.

They were editing the film when that painful drama played out at the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley. Unless you were vacationing in Antarctica, you read about it, the club reneging on a pay-for-play deal with the Creative Steps day camp after mostly African-American and Latino kids splashed in the pool one time.

“Now, that incident makes people understand the relevance of the film,” Levison said. “It’s now easier to raise money.”

The lawyers may seek reparations, but money won’t heal psychological wounds.

“Of course, that’s going to scar a kid,” Waletzky said. “Even if they never talk about it. They’re excited, they’re going swimming at a pool, a treat. That’s part of American life. And then . . . you get turned away?”

“Intimacy,” Levison said, ticking off some of the reasons for the skimpy representation of minorities in competitive swimming. “Access. Whites fearing blacks. It’s an expensive thing if you have to drive to the suburbs to be on a USA swim team.”

In 1987, 40 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, Dodgers general manager Al Campanis told Ted Koppel and a startled nation that so many blacks were poor swimmers because they lacked “buoyancy.”

Buoy-oh-buoyancy! He also told Koppel that maybe blacks lacked “the necessities” to be baseball managers or general managers. Two days later, the Dodgers fired him.

“Campanis may be in the film,” Levison said sheepishly. “Or out. We go back-and-forth. In. Out.”

“We interview a scholar in the film,” Waletzky said. “He makes a relevant point that Americans seem to go to racialized explanations of things. They see an Olympic team with one or zero African-Americans and they think there must be a physical reason.

“Well, you can’t do anything about that. The truth is harder to deal with. Discrimination has a long legacy. There’s the problem of access. And once a generation does not learn to swim, that gets passed down to the next generation.”

Cullen Jones can swim. He has an Olympic gold medal. He also has a deal with Nike.

“There’s an aspect of economics,” Waletzky said. “Basketball and football are cash sports. Swimming does not make money.

“One of the young men in the film is a talented swimmer. But he’s also a talented pitcher. Eventually, he chose to abandon swimming to go into baseball.”

Jones is in the film, encouraged by Maritza Correia, the first black female on a U.S. Olympic swim team, to take on the grinding job of role model. The film sparkles with teenagers inspired by Jones and Correia.

And there’s the sad, solemn undercurrent of a Toledo mom who lost a son to drowning.

“It happened at an unsupervised lake. She decided that what she wanted to do,” Waletzky explained, “was start a learn-to-swim program. So that no other mother would lose a child to drowning.

“One of the fundamental reasons, she tells us at the outset, is that her father saw somebody drown and never taught anyone else in the family to swim.”

It’s a powerful story, a timely story, one that fulfills the mission statement of Do Tell Productions, “creating high quality film and theater works of social and cultural significance.”

The wheels of social justice grind slowly. The film gets it right, with its theme: “It only takes seconds to set a world record. But it takes decades to set the world straight.” *

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21 Jul, 2009  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

09 Jul, 2009  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

Today a story broke that a group of young summer campers from North Philadelphia were denied access to a private swimming pool because of their race.

The president of the pool felt free to justify the fact that his facility turned away the campers by saying, “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion and the atmosphere of the club.”

Despite the devastating effects of his words and actions on the sixty children and their families, there is hope in the form of an outpouring of support. NBC Philadelphia reports that the summer camp accepted the invitation of Girard College to host the children in their swimming facilities.

To paraphrase Eric Ward from his recent blog post, let us continue to create a world in which we break down the institutional barriers that youth of color face when it comes to swimming — and also lift the weights of psychological racism that can drag our children down as well.

09 Jul, 2009  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »


30 Dec, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

We are finally on vacation, and it’s wonderful.  Swimming, walking, eating, and …. surprisingly — sewing.  Check it out:


02 Sep, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

We got to do an interview about Parting the Waters with Gina Telaroli on — the blog for Participant Productions (An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Visitor…)

You can read it here.

15 Aug, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

In the wake of his wonderful Olympic success, Cullen’s getting a lot of press lately. You can find most of it by googling him, but I want to post this NPR story. They talk about what Michael Phelps eats for breakfast, Raj Bhavsar — the third ever Indian American to medal in the Olympics, the offensive photo taken by the Spanish basketball team, and Cullen.

What interests me is how media reporting is like a giant game of telephone. One outlet reports something, and then another picks it up slightly wrong, and then another picks that one up, slightly more wrong, and before you know it, Cullen founded the Make a Splash campaign. (Not true — it’s a program of the USA Swimming Foundation.)

So does that mean Michael doesn’t really eat grits for breakfast?

14 Aug, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

When we started making our movie in January 2006, we had never heard of Cullen Jones. Maritza Correia introduced us a few months later, at the National Black Heritage Championship meet.

So how happy are we tonight that we wrapped our film tonight as Cullen and his three teammates won Olympic gold in the 4×100 freestyle relay?!??!!!

There is a place in sports documentary filmmaking heaven for Jazon Lezak.

Gold medal relay

10 Aug, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

Today is our last day of filming for Parting the Waters — the shoot centers around Cullen swimming in the Olympics — in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. His team set a new world record in the prelims, with Cullen swimming a blazing 47:60 that qualified him to swim one of the legs in the finals tonight. He’ll be swimming the relay with Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, and Jason Lezak. Josh and I are on the edges of our seats!

Except that we’re not sitting much, because we have 7 camera crews going with all our other major characters while they watch Cullen swim — in Long Beach, California; Toledo, Ohio; Athens, Georgia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Brooklyn, New York; Middleboro, Massachusetts; and Peaks Island, Maine.

Tune in! It should broadcast live at about 11:25 PM ET, tonight — August 11.

10 Aug, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

I wasn’t there, but I looked it up online. 13-year-old Lia Neal swam like a …. championship swimmer …. at the U.S. Opens this past weekend. I am posting her results in the 50 meter freestyle:

Lia @ U.S. Open

That might be a little small to see, but what it says is that Lia placed 10th in the prelims to qualify her for the B final of the 50 meter free. And that when she swam in the B final, she bettered her time, and came in 10th overall.

How great is that?

04 Aug, 2008  Permanent Link | No Comments Yet »

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