Culture | January 21st, 2021
Aqua Angels Diversified Fort Lauderdale’s Swim Culture
By: Déja Boyd
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 25-yard crystal clear pool sits right in the heart of one of the most predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city and is home to The Aqua Angels — the only all-Black swim team funded by the state of Florida.
Florida has been one of the meccas for America’s swim culture, encompassing hundreds of swim teams ranging from collegiate to local community teams. Breaking color barriers since the 90s, The Aqua Angels are destigmatizing the myth that “Black people can’t swim.”
The Aqua Angels produced the first and only all-Black American relay team to qualify for the state of Florida’s high school championship swim meet in 2002. The swimmers were sisters Gia and Camille Wright, along with Latrelle Jackson-Graham and Tiffany Williams.
“The Aqua Angels changed my life for the better and to have a different approach and a change of mindset on how I look at things or situations,” said Tiffany Williams. “I know now that everything I do, no matter how hard or difficult, I call on Jesus, because it was instilled in me by the Coach to always push through the pain, even in practice when trying to keep up with the goal times.”
This team has been competing in David Deal PlayDay swim meets for decades and only lost twice in all 24 years of its existence. The Aqua Angels were also usual participants and winners in the National Black Heritage Swim Meet. This swim meet is hosted by an out of state all-Black swim team, The North Carolina AquaBlazers. With 63 teams and over a thousand swimmers gathering in this chlorine arena year after year, the meet seems to be a staple and monumental experience for the Aqua Angels.
The Aqua Angels are still an active swim team, but they have recently merged with The Swim Fort Lauderdale Team at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, across the street from the breezy Fort Lauderdale beachfront.
The team could not exist without the structure and the drive of its founder and head coach, Gainus Wright III. Being able to align the salvation message in the gospel with saving the Black community and its children from the possible evils in the streets of Broward County has been a divine mission that seems to be destined for Wright.
Wright, who never swam competitively himself, felt led by God to teach and coach inner-city Black kids the fundamentals and the importance of learning how to swim. This deed helped Wright manifest a history-making and record-breaking all-Black swim team for decades to come.
Deeply rooted in his Christian faith, Wright believes that the Black community has gotten away from the message of salvation. He mentions that the Black community wants to know what is going to help save their kids from the violence and hardship within the surrounding poor communities. Wright strongly promotes the scholarship opportunities in swimming, which will possibly alleviate financial burdens.
Wright says: “I am most proud of our longevity. Despite some resistance in the journey, we have managed to remain in existence.” Wright states that the biggest challenge with running an all-Black swim team is the lack of support from the Black community itself. The collective interest to learn has decreased tremendously; therefore, it is an increased challenge to develop a thriving swim program.
It is Wright’s belief that until an aquatic facility with both swimming and diving capabilities on the campus of Broward County’s traditionally Black high schools, with passionate instructors and coaches, the challenge to address the community’s interest will not change.
He also mentions that schools and society are caught up in the cycle of team sports, not recognizing that even in team sports, it is individuals that are being recruited.
Former Aqua Angels swimmer Delerick “Van” Easter II says, “the experience with The Aqua Angels was extraordinary. Being around a culture of Black excellence inspired me to compete, but more importantly, strive for greatness in all areas of life.”
As the program carries on, the team and Wright continue to work towards bringing more diversity in aquatics. Wright and The Aqua Angels are aiming to be a positive representation for the Black community, a change agent and a beacon of light for other Black kids.