shunda-wilkin_web.jpgORLANDO — With summer here and pool and beach trips surging, black children remain the most likely group to suffer fatal swimming accidents.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drowning rate of African-American children is three times that of white children. That is likely due to the fact that seven in 10 black children cannot swim and even more are not proficient in the water.

Camp LifeSavers, a Florida nonprofit, is taking on the challenge to teach them to be at home in the water through – however unlikely – spiritual training.

“The earth is 70 percent water, our bodies are 70 percent water and water is clearly meant to be a vital part of our lives,” said Shunda Wilkin, president and CEO of Camp LifeSavers.

“Blacks have such a long history of being fearful of water and never learning to swim that generation after generation grows up with this fear implanted in their heads.  My goal is to stop the cycle, enabling our people to connect with water as they should,” Wilkin said.

Camp LifeSavers, which was founded in 2009,  operates the “I Can Swim” program designed to introduce water safety and swimming habits in a safe, encouraging environment. 

To date, the program, coupled with Wilkin’s for-profit Sunny Days Swim School, has graduated more than 550 students, including an American Red Cross Water Safety-certified instructor now working with her.

Wilkin designed a swimming lesson plan focusing on both in and out of the water to ease the minds of timid students of all ages. A devout  Christian, she uses spiritual tie-ins, allowing God to do a “new thing” in her students.

“Water is the realm of God in our world, just as the air we breathe and ground we walk on. My desire is to help others learn to replace the fear of water with respect for water so they can learn to love to swim,” she said.

Bible scriptures and stories are used throughout Wilkin’s lesson plans, including passages such as, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power,” providing inspiration for her traditionally fearful pupils to find peace while swimming.

She is planning eventually to have instructors across the U.S. in the next few years teaching her distinctive approach to swim lessons.

“I’ve heard every excuse in the world, from ‘I don’t know what to do with my hair’ to ‘Blacks have no business in the water.’ How much longer will we put our children at risk of death before we do something about it? God has laid it on my heart to meet this challenge and I intend to erase this epidemic of fear so we can have fun and enjoy the water safely as we are supposed to.”

She said her nonprofit corporation has a goal of reducing the number of black people who cannot swim to less than 10 percent.

Those interested in supporting Camp LifeSavers or getting involved in swimming lessons in their communities may contact Wilkin at 407-694-6168 or visit the Camp LifeSavers website at

Photo: Shunda Wilkin