HEMPSTEAD, New York -- For Paulana Lamonier, taking a dip in the pool is an act of joy.
She took swimming lessons growing up and developed a love for the sport. But it was as a college swimmer that she first realized there weren't many Black people in the pool with her.
"The stereotype that Black people don't swim is clearly racist," said Lamonier, who discovered this stereotype through the clients she now teaches to swim.
"It stems from slavery, they were trying to keep Black people away from water for a number of reasons, so they don't run away. As time goes on and as Black people started to get more freedom, they were finding ways to keep Black people still out of the water," Lemonier said.
In 2019, Lamonier took to social media to pledge that she would teach 30 Black people how to swim after having success with one of her first clients, 31-year-old Yolelda Ira.
Her tweet went viral, with many people of color retweeting and sharing their fears and stories about the stereotype.
This past March, Lamonier created Black People Will Swim, an organization dedicated to teaching people of color of all ages how to swim through the initials F.A.C.E., encouraging the community to FACE their fears.
"This movement is important," said Ira, who is now on her sixth lesson with Lamonier, and is already more comfortable in the pool.
"She is bringing it forward and giving people the opportunity that they never grew up with. I just pray that in the future, this company will grow and more people will take advantage of learning how to swim and breaking the stereotype," Ira said.
Data from the USA Swimming Foundation in 2019 showed that 64 percent of Black children have no or low swimming ability - and Black People Will Swim is determined to change that.
"For anyone who is scared to learn how to swim who's on the fence, who has one foot in one foot out, feel the fear and do it anyway," Lamonier said. "You're going to be scared, but this is what makes you, you, and this is what life is all about. We spent a year inside scared ... Why waste time and just go for it."
Here's how to sign up for lessons from Black People Will Swim.
Contact Community Journalist Alex Ciccarone