Taken at Bethlehem Community Center by the author, spring 2023
© August 30, 2023, the Griot Poet
“Too few public pools
“There are more than 10 million private swimming pools in the United States, according to a C.D.C. estimate, compared with just 309,000 public ones. That figure includes pools that belong to condo complexes, hotels, and schools, so the number of pools truly accessible to the public is even smaller. The biggest reason so many Americans can’t swim is that they have too few places to learn to do so.
“Then the expansion stopped. In the 1960s, many towns across the South **filled or destroyed their public pools** rather than allow Black Americans to swim in them. Northern cities, strapped for resources amid suburbanization and white flight, struggled to maintain their pools. This is how public investment in pools withered, one more ghastly sacrifice America has laid at the altar of anti-Black racism and twisted fears about miscegenation.”
Mara Gay, New York Times
I came to Earth via Kate Bitting Hospital,
Now, Reynolds Clinic,
On what used to be Seventh and Cleveland, now Cleveland and Martin Luther King Avenue.
The segregated hospital was named after the wife of RJ Reynolds, the tobacco magnate,
One of 12 hospitals for African Americans,
It’s where my mother worked as a nurse,
It, and all the others, no longer exists.
I attended Bethlehem Community Center for preschool and kindergarten.
It was, and is, right up the street from the hospital,
It was, and is, predominantly minority, with some immigrants,
We once had a pool where I learned to swim, to my big sister’s chagrin (she found out abruptly after I dove into the deep end of a then-segregated pool).
That pool is now closed.
On a recent visit to Bethlehem earlier this year, I saw the site where the pool once was now a surface cemented over.
My old neighborhood is still De Facto segregated.
I being a rare exception, some have been trapped in “The Racist Matrix” for generations.
A ghetto was brought over from Germany to the US.
After Germany put on steroids, American eugenics.
A place exquisitely designed to sequester possibilities and shatter dreams.
Black children are more likely to die from drowning,
Because if they HAD any pools in their neighborhoods, they’re cemented over.
If you’re lucky, someone’s dad (like mine) erects one of those plastic above-ground, temporary pools and invites your friends to come over, play, and cool off in it.
Pair ceiled public pools with climate change,
The fear of water in black children,
The fear of miscegenation with white women,
Society has designed a slow crucifixion.
We’re barreling towards 3 degrees Celsius,
And the need for humans to keep cool in an ever-warming environment.
Which group has a survival advantage: 10 million private pools or 309,000 public ones?
Which groups are disadvantaged?
Are pools and universal healthcare inalienable human rights?
Or is this some National Security Study Memorandum 200/Thomas Malthus Eugenics strategy?
Or is their plan to keep a numeric majority to cook us before heaven or hellish eternities?
I just know that my granddaughter can swim because her parents can afford her lessons at a swim club [for] it.
It used to be that learning to swim didn’t require a middle-class wallet.
I just know that I attended,
Bethlehem Community Center from pre-k to kindergarten,
I learned how to read, how to swim, and how to grieve our loss of Dr. Martin Luther King,
As rifle shots rang out [and] confederate flags in the parking lot passed by our windows.
They were thrilled. We were devastated.
The same flag of insurrection was carried by their grandchildren at the US Capitol on January 6th.
The city of Winston-Salem left a cement surface like it was a marker to a tomb.
Even pre-k, to kindergarten:
Even there, in that innocence,
They couldn’t leave us alone...to swim.