RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The City of Richmond’s Parks and Recreation division is offering free swimming lessons to members of the community in an effort to help cut down on drowning tragedies this summer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning represents the leading cause of death for children under the age of 4.

8News spoke with Richmond resident Joshua Watkins, who said this type of devastation — childhood drowning — hits particularly close to home for him and his family.

“My godsister, we were in the house,” Watkins said. “She was actually in the pool, and she drowned, and she passed away.”

Watkins doesn’t want any other families to experience such a horrible feeling. He learned to swim when he was around 2 years old, and has been an avid swimmer ever since. He wants more members of the community to learn how to swim for their own safety and that of others.

“[Increased swim lessons] lessens a lot of the drownings and a lot of the risky areas around the pool,” Watkins said.

Randolph Public Pool in Richmond. Credit: Sierra Krug / 8News

The CDC also reported that the drowning death rate for Black Americans is 1.5 times higher than that of their White American counterparts. Watkins encouraged anyone, regardless of age, race or any other factor to learn how to swim. “For the culture, as us Black people, we should be in the water way more, we should be swimming all day long,” he told 8News.

Watkins added that swimming lessons can help ease the stress already placed on parents during the summertime. He noted that when parents and caretakers know a child is capable of treading water or surviving an accidental slip into a body of water, it can make summer more safe and fun for everyone.

“A parent has a job,” Watkins said. “They’ve got to take care of their family, they’ve got to take care of themselves too. They’ve also got to take care of their kids, so it’s important that we have swim lessons.”

Accessibility is a critical aspect of drowning prevention. Swimming lessons can be pricey and, therefore, exclusive — a stigma Richmond Parks and Recreation is looking to combat with free lessons this July and August. The classes are entirely free to the public and open to people of all ages.

Classes still have openings. More information on registration can be found here.