Jason Jefferson has found another way to provide an outlet for underprivileged youth. And at the same time, he’s tackling a little-known issue in the inner-city community.
“Drowning is the second-leading cause of childhood accidental death,” Jason Jefferson, swim coach extraordinaire, says. “Seven out of 10 African-American children cannot swim. Six out of 10 Hispanic children cannot swim. Thirty-six percent of Americans cannot swim, and 60 percent of those are minorities. I could go on and on.”
Hence the birth of the Oakland Tsunami. But Jefferson’s swim club — an extension of the nonprofit Coalition of Oakland Pride and a partner with the city of Oakland — doesn’t just teach Oakland children
how to swim. The Tsunami, currently serving 23 kids ages 5 to 18, exposes youth to the traditionally distant world of aquatic competition, which exists almost exclusively in suburban neighborhoods.
Jefferson started the Tsunami in September 2011. He began it as a swim school after working with OUSD to, for the first time, open up the pool at Castlemont High School to other swimmers. The Tsunami offered clinics and fed swimmers to Castlemont’s swim team.
Eventually, the Tsunami formed its own squad, and it participated in its first swim meet in March at Mills College, where 14-year-old Abdallah Maghoub and Jefferson’s daughter Eirene, 11, shined.
Usually, swim clubs are well-funded since in affluent communities parents can afford to fork over the high fees. But the Oakland Tsunami only funds 20 percent of its operation through participants. Jefferson scrapes up the rest through fundraising, sponsorships and donations.
Securing funding is a constant struggle. But Jefferson, who has been coaching swimming in Oakland for 15 years, is convinced the cause is worthy. They aren’t just splashing around in the pool.
“We are trying to run a program in an economically deprived community where children have little-to-no experience with swimming,” Jefferson says. “Many of the children suffer from poor nutrition, which everyone knows leads to health problems such as obesity. We are trying to give them an opportunity to learn an essential skill, to become fit, to thrive at competitive swimming — and, who knows, maybe an opportunity for swim scholarships.”