Agnes Davis is the founder of the only minority-owned swim company in the Upper Manhattan, New York area.
Swim Swim Swim I Say opened in 2009 to target Black youth and encourage them to learn the life-saving aquatic skill.
Davis told Atlanta Black Star when she researched to begin her company, she found shocking statistics about Black drowning rates.
“When I Googled to start my company, and I started to see the statistics, I was absolutely blown away,” Davis recalled. “I was always a swimmer. So to me, being in the water was just like walking. It was nothing different.”
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, Black children between the ages of 5 and 19 are five times as likely to drown in the pool.
As a life-long swimmer, it was difficult for Davis to understand why African-Americans were so affected by this.
“It really frightened me. I almost couldn’t wrap my head around it because it made no sense to me because of where I was [as a swimmer].”
Davis believes Black youth are not interested in swimming due to the accessibility of other sports.
“Basketball, baseball, football [have] always been Black sports, and I think minorities do not see it as a way of changing themselves economically. But I think what they fail to understand [is] you can change earlier economically.”
She continued, “By learning how to swim, even in NYC at the age of 15, you can get a job as a lifeguard and make $13-and-change an hour. Your friends are making $7-and-change flipping burgers.”
But the CEO sees the Summer Olympics as a way to encourage Black youth to take up the water sport.
“I think the Olympics is really helping us right now. The Black females that are swimming for the U.S. Olympic team are out of Stanford University,” she explained of Lia Neal and gold medalist Simone Manuel. “And a lot of these girls are on swimming scholarships.”
She also said Black swimmers competing in the Games means representation for African-American youth.
“It’s gonna open us [to] wider [opportunities]. It is no different than when Tiger Woods started with golf. This is gonna change the face of the Olympics tremendously. I guarantee you. Because little girls and little boys are now seeing people that look like them. Until you see something that looks like you, you don’t want to achieve it or you don’t want to go for it unless you have that family or that push of someone behind you that’s telling you, ‘You can.’ ”
Swim Swim Swim has grown significantly in the years since it opened. The client base has increased from three students to as many as 85 to 100 in a given session.
Seven instructors are currently employed, and the facility is open year-round thanks to an indoor pool. The only exception is the summer. Weekend hours shut down during that season.
Davis initially opened the company to serve minority youth but expanded to help adults and children with different learning abilities after the parent of a special-needs student contacted her seeking a comfortable coaching environment.
“I said, ‘You can bring him, but I’m gonna be honest with you: I have no experience with special-needs children,’ ” the founder explained. ” ‘Bring him, I’ll work with him.’ And they’ve been with me for four years.”
For clients with varying skill sets, one-on-one classes are key.
“What’s very important for them [is] they have to have one-on-one classes. There needs to be a trust factor established between the instructor and the student. And it’s very important to pay attention and you engage yourself.”
Davis keeps the classroom size small to increase learning potential. She said it allows students to learn at a better pace and allows the instructor to pay more attention.
Along with serving customers of all skill levels, one thing that sets the company apart from others like it is Davis’ commitment to customer service.
“I have one huge thing that I think is lacking in any service industry,” she said. “I am the face of my company, I am the backbone of my company. I am the customer service. My instructors that work for me understand this is how we run this business. If they do not want to participate in the way that I feel we should take care of our clients, they do not need to work for me. I’m very strict on that. And everybody knows that I do not hire people that do not have my same kind of belief system.”