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The Black History Invitational Swim Meet is all about the children

2014 honoree Coach Russell Williams holds Mayor Gray's Proclamation
Photos by Professor Metze

“It is all about the children,” Russell “Kim” Williams stood behind the podium at the Black History Month Invitational and received a proclamation from the city of Washington, D.C. for his lifelong contribution to helping children through his work as a swim coach and mentor.

The program Saturday came as a capacity crowd turned out at the Takoma Aquatic Center to watch over 800 young people compete in the Black History Invitational Swimming Meet. As swim teams gathered from around the nation to participation in the only African-American swimming competition Williams remembered the comments he heard before the 1987 program started. These hurtful comments suggested that African-Americans could not be great swimmers. Williams set out to dispel these myths and lies.

The Baltimore Swim Club has been to every single swim meet for 28 years. Williams was recognized by the city of Washington for his lifelong committee to teaching young people to live better lives through the training and discipline they received in learning to swim. As parents lined up with their children, as they walked through the snow, it was clear they came to the event this weekend to support their children.

As Williams was honored he was joined by Dr. Sharia Shanklin, the interim director of the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation; John Stokes, the Director of Communications for the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Robert Green, the man who Stokes noted as being everything aquatic for DPR.

“I know we had some issues with the snow on Friday. Thank you for coming out in the snowy weather and supporting this event. It has been around for 28 years. We appreciate seeing you. This year’s meet we have 885 competitors from 32 different teams, Green said.

“Take Your Mark is the theme we chose for this year’s event. What does this theme mean? And what does it mean to the children? I want one of the children to tell me,” Shanklin said. Her question brought a response from one of the children. “For Take Your Mark, the first thing that comes into my head is to set a goal,” one of the children said. Shanklin said that most people see basketball players, football players, and swimmers but within that contexts is a deeper meaning. These sports develop character. She said the experiences from playing team sports like basketball, football, and being on a swim team teaches young people to work together as a unit for a greater good. She said playing team sports teaches children to resolve conflicts. Watching the 885 children work together in the swim competition proved that Shanklin was correct. The children worked together in a seamless display of teamwork, team unity, and team cooperation.

“These children want to grow up to live their lives just as we grew up to live ours. They want to enjoy life. They want to have fun,” said one woman who came to watch her two nieces compete in the event. She was referring to people who fill newspaper columns with dire predictions about the world to scare the children. However, the people who are making these predictions in 2014 forget that 50 years ago school children were being forced to duck under desks for the nuclear threat that never came. Those children are grandparents today.

As Coach Williams received his lifetime achievement award he said it was all about the children. It was then and it is now. Mayor Vincent Gray thanked Williams for his service to the children in an official proclamation.

The Black History Invitational Swim Meet will continue for its final day on Sunday February 16, 2014 at the Takoma Aquatic Center. It is an event for the entire family. The event on Saturday was filled to capacity. Come early for a good seat and a great family day. T-Shirts for the event will be available and food and drinks can be purchased at the concession stand. The schedule for the events today are:

- Session 1 (13 & over): Warm up - 7 am to 8 am | First event: 8 a.m.

- High Point Award Ceremony for 13 & over: 12:30 p.m.

- Session 2 (12 & under): Warm up - 1 pm to 2 pm | First event: 2 p.m.

- High Point Award Ceremony for 12 & under: 6:30 p.m.

The Department of Parks and Recreation is inviting all of the District of Columbia to come out today to celebrate the achievements of the children. The awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. will be an opportunity to let the children know that it is not just talk when adults say, “It is all about the children.”

Beginning in 1989, the Black History Invitational Swim Meet Steering Committee has chosen courageous and notable African Americans in history or in the field of swimming whose contributions are known throughout the world to be recognized during the weekend's events. Previous honorees include:

1989 3rd Martin Luther King, Jr.

1990 4th Martin Luther King, Jr.

1991 5th Frederick Douglass

1992 6th Sojourner Truth

1993 7th Benjamin Banneker

1994 8th Mary McLeod Bethune

1995 9th George Washington Carver

1996 10th Harriet Tubman

1997 11th Booker T. Washington

1998 12th Dr. Dorothy Height

1999 13th Walter Washington

2000 14th Eleanor Holmes Norton

2001 15th Dr. Calvin Rolark

2002 16th Dr. William H. Rumsey

2003 17th Dan Knise and Clarence Bishop

2004 18th Sharon Pratt

2005 19th Chuck Hinton, Fred Lee Valentine, and Mamie

2006 20th 20th Annual Black History Invitational Swim Meet Committee

2007 21st Jim Ellis and Frederick Evans, II

2008 22nd Bradford A. Tatum

2009 23rd Cullen Jones

2010 24th Maritza Correia, Byron Davis, Sabir Muhammed and David Goggins

2011 25th Michael Wright and Alana Dillette

2012 26th Rodger McCoy

2013 27th John Tatum

2014 28th Russell “Kim” Williams

The Takoma Aquatics Center is conveniently located just minutes away from the Takoma Park Metro Station. It is on the 62 Metro Bus Line. The address is 300 Van Buren Street, NW, just behind Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. Come out today to watch great swimmers, great children, and great families support the children. It really is all about the children. The event starts at 8:00 a.m. today. Support the children. Attend the event today.

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