A 7-year-old saved a drowning 3-year-old. This is why access to swim safety matters.
The lack of access to swimming classes is putting Black kids disproportionally at risk for drowning.
Massiah Browne is a 7-year-old boy who loves swimming and Spiderman. In a lot of ways, he's an ordinary kid. But most 7-year-olds don't save lives, and that's exactly what Massiah did recently.
Massiah told me that he was swimming with his cousin in July at the apartment building in Sacramento, California, where he lives with his mom and 4-year-old brother when saw a 3-year-old child at the bottom of the pool with his mouth and eyes open. Thinking quickly, Massiah dove down to the bottom of the pool, pulling the little boy up to the surface by his arm. Massiah's 9-year-old cousin, Savannah, helped him pull the boy out onto the side of the pool, and then ran to get the child's mother.
Adults performed CPR on the child until local firefighters arrived to rush the child to the closest hospital.
When I asked Massiah how it felt to have saved a kid's life, he said, "Amazing."
"Your child is a prodigy," I told his mother.
I love stories about real-life heroes and – as a mother of a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old who still aren't good swimmers – the idea of a child drowning is one of my biggest fears. I wanted to know exactly what happened, so I reached out to the family.
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Teaching her son water safety
Massiah's mom, Tiara Delvalle, told me that her son loves to swim: "Massiah is the first kid in the pool and the last one out. But he just recently started swimming lessons, to learn the strokes."
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"Swimming classes are important," she added, "especially for Black kids. In the African American community, there isn't the same access to swimming classes. At a lot of pool parties, people are out of the pool instead of in it because they're scared."
She's right. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, about 64% of Black children, 45% of Latino children and 40% of white kids don't know how to swim or are weak swimmers.
The lack of access to swimming classes is putting Black kids disproportionally at risk for drowning. It's a problem that government officials must take responsibility for, and do something about, urgently.
We need to make sure our children are prepared
The consequences of not being a strong swimmer can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 11 people die each day from drowning in the United States. More children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death, except birth defects. And for children ages 1 to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.
Here are three basic recommendations from the CDC about things you can do to prevent drowning:
►Learn the basic swimming and water safety skills. Make sure kids who know how to swim understand they still can't swim if an adult isn't around to watch them.
►If you have a pool at home, use a four-sided fence that fully encloses the pool and separates it from the house. Also, keep toys out of the pool that might attract young children.
►Designate an adult to supervise swimmers closely. After getting out of the water, shut and lock doors that give access to water.
A real life hero
As for the 3-year-old whom Massiah saved, his mother told "Good Morning America" that she's in touch with the toddler's mom and he's doing well.
As for Massiah, he said he wants to be a lifeguard when he grows up.
When I asked him who his favorite superhero was, he said "Spiderman" without hesitation. Adding: "Because there's a lot of Spiderman people."
When he's not saving lives, Massiah likes to make music. He's made a song called "Siah Fire," which he'd like readers to check out.
Massiah's story is certainly inspirational, for kids and adults, alike. I told my daughters about his heroics and they're both motivated to become better swimmers, which is awesome. I could probably use a lesson or two, myself.
You can follow Massiah and his brother, Mason, on Instagram @thebrownebrothers.
Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is an opinion writer with USA TODAY, and a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq