Outdoor Afro and KEEN Partner with YMCA to Address Black Youth Drowning Crisis Expanding ‘Making Waves’ Program this Summer


KEEN, Inc. (KEEN), the global footwear brand on a mission to make outside inclusive and accessible to all, announced its “Making Waves” partnership with Outdoor Afro, the nation’s foremost not-for-profit organization celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature, and the YMCA, the leading U.S. nonprofit committed to strengthening communities. A limited edition Outdoor Afro x KEEN sandal collection released Apr. 12 in support of a national program to impact 100,000 Black youth and their caregivers over the next 10 years.

The program is designed to increase attention while helping to raise funds for Swimmerships, scholarships for swimming lessons happening primarily at YMCAs. It launches with an awareness and fundraising campaign highlighting the alarming statistic that Black children are nearly six times more likely to die from drowning than white kids, according to the CDC.

“These alarming statistics demanded action,” said Rue Mapp, founder, and CEO of Outdoor Afro, according to a press release.

“We need to stop the drownings and give kids confidence in and around the water. It’s about saving lives and enabling stronger connections to our waterways and the outdoors. This is an important step in the right direction. We are most grateful that our partner of a decade, KEEN, has supported Making Waves for the last three years, and are excited that the YMCA is adding its strength to the effort. It’s great to see this all coming together.”

Outdoor Afro created Making Waves in 2019 with KEEN and the YMCA first supporting a pilot program in New YorkAtlanta, Charlotte, and Phoenix in 2021. The expanded partnership will now help Outdoor Afro grow in key markets across the country in 2022. Kids and their caregivers may sign up for Swimmerships on Outdoor Afro’s website beginning this summer. Each Swimmership provides a new swimmer with a full swim course of eight to 10 lessons. Swim lessons take place at local YMCA’s and select community pools. Individuals may sponsor a swimmer on Outdoor Afro’s website$10 = a lesson, $100 = a Swimmership$1,000 funds a full class.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” says Erik Burbank, vice president of the KEEN Effect.

“We’re proud to be supporting Outdoor Afro on this movement, and it’s really motivating to have the YMCA joining the effort. Having a partner that can help us scale the program over time reinforces our ability to create change and have a significant effect on this issue.”

“As the nation’s largest and best-in-class provider of swim lessons, the Y has decades of experience working to address and eliminate the disparities associated with swimming,” noted YMCA of the USA Director of Movement Engagement, Innovative Priorities and Aquatics Safety Lindsay Mondick.

“This initiative is what the Y is all about—making meaningful impact on communities and creating connective learning opportunities for all—and our expertise around water safety and drowning prevention makes this partnership a perfect fit.”

The YMCA over the years has worked to increase participation in swimming among Black children and reduce drowning rates in those and other communities of color. Through public service campaigns, inspiring storytelling across multiple platforms, and partnering with the CDC to explore and analyze the barriers that Black/African American families face with swimming, the Y has made a difference in these areas. The YMCA’s commitment is to help all children become strong, confident swimmers and reduce water-related injuries in every community.

The Outdoor Afro x KEEN sandal collection features artwork from Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Leandra Taylor. Taylor has been an inspiration, teacher, and friend to kids hungry to learn about the outdoor experience. Her art is incorporated in silhouettes for the whole family, including Newport H2 for men; Astoria West for women;  Newport H2; and Stingrays for kids. The collection will be available on keenfootwear.com and at retailers across the U.S., as well as select retailers in CanadaEurope, and Japan.

One percent of all sales will go to fund new Swimmerships. To learn more or to sign up for a Swimmership, please visit Outdoor Afro.

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