Out & Back with Alison Mariella Désir

Out & Back with Alison Mariella Désir

Alison Mariella Désir explores the Pacific Northwest with the change-makers who are reclaiming space, creating awareness and delivering access for the health and well-being of BIPOC communities in the region.

Diving into healing-oriented BIPOC swimming lessons

Chandrika Francis of Oshun Swim School helps Alison face her fears and dip her toes into the water by highlighting its calming powers.

Of all the activities Alison Mariella Désir has tried on this show so far, swimming scares her the most. She can imagine few things more terrifying than drowning. And despite having the opportunity to take lessons as a child, she has never mastered anything beyond doggy paddling.

For many Black people in the United States, swimming comes with a history of trauma and exclusion that has resulted in staggering statistics: Nearly 60% of Black kids in the United States do not know how to swim; Black kids drown at over three times the rate of white kids. Several factors are responsible for this, including institutional racism, myths and stereotypes about our bodies and generational trauma.

However, there are bright spots – champion swimmers like Pauline Jackson, who attempted to swim the Catalina Channel in 1927; Louise O. Wilson, who in 1981 became the first African American swimmer to successfully cross the English Channel; and Anthony Nesty, a former Olympic gold medalist who was recently named head coach of the U.S. men’s swimming team for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the first Black U.S. Olympic head swimming coach.

Chandrika Francis, founder of Oshun Swim School, carries this torch. Her work centers on communities historically excluded from swim environments and for whom swim skills are most essential. Through healing-centered and trauma-informed courses and workshops, Oshun Swim School strives to build a safer space for BIPOC women and non-binary people to explore their relationship with water, and grow into embodied, joyful swimmers. Alison is hopeful this will be the beginning of a new love of swimming for her!