It was that fateful call that changed the life of Wanda Butts upside down, when she heard the news that her son, Josh, had drowned while rafting on a lake with a group of his friends. The reason was pretty simple – he did not know how to swim. Also, the fact that he was not wearing a life jacket did not help the cause either. She just could not believe her ears when she got the news, year 2006. After all, she had always exercised caution when it came to her son’s safety, be it driving or any kind of street violence. She would always warn him to ensure that he always remains on alert and avoids such situations. But never did she think that water would prove to be the reason for his untimely death. Hence, she never felt the need to teach him swimming.
However, Josh was not the only kid in his black community who could not swim. In fact, the figures suggest that more than 70% of African-Americans do not know how to swim. The figures are in stark contrast to white children with only 42% who can’t swim. In addition, some of the latest surveys and researches also suggest that African-American children, who are aged between 5 to 14 years, are 3 times more likely to drown when compared to white children of the same age.
Butts, after coming to terms with her son’s demise, realized that it was her deep rooted fear of water that lead to such a tragic accident. And it is this very realization that prompted her to start The Josh Project, which provides swimming lessons to children in Toledo, Ohio, at affordable rates. “After losing my son, I wanted to do something to help other people, to help another mother not have to suffer the way I do every day from the loss of a child drowning,” she said.
It is this very endeavor of hers that has helped more than a thousand children in the area learn swimming. Her foundation focuses on children belonging to minority group, as they are the ones who are more at risk of losing their lives due to water accidents. She makes special efforts to educate mothers in and around the region about the importance of these lessons, as studies indicate that children are far less likely to learn swimming if their parents can’t swim. So, it becomes extremely important that these parents be educated so that they send their children for such classes.
When asked what her goal is for the future, Butt says that she wants to bring down the drowning statistics of minority children. She also plans to have her own aquatic center one day. “The joy on the faces of those children — when they see that they can learn, once they get it — they are so happy with themselves,” she said. “And it’s like all of them are my children. It’s like I didn’t lose my son.”