- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

The top young swimmers in the nation celebrated Black History month by competing in the 16th Annual Black History Invitational Swim Meet at the Capital East pool on Capitol Hill in Southeast yesterday.
Teams from New York cheered for Maryland. North Carolina cheered for Philadelphia. Teams from the District, Maryland and Virginia cheered for Atlanta. Everybody, it appeared, was a winner inside the spacious and steamy indoor pool during the two-day competitions that end today.
The annual swimming event, which was founded in 1987 by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and the United Black Fund Inc., attracted 600 swimmers ages 6 to 18 to the District this weekend.
Swimming was only the excuse used to bring the enthusiastic group together. Each year, the Invitational honors a notable black person whose achievements set new standards in their field. This year, the late William Henry Rumsey Sr., a former director of D.C. Parks and Recreation, adviser to mayors and former principal of McKinley High School was saluted during a poolside ceremony before the competitons got back under way.
Aleshee Ross, 13, a member of DCPR Competitive Swim team in the District, said she recognized the importance of the swim meet and what it takes to be a part of the highly competitive event.
The eighth-grader who attends Patricia Roberts Harris Educational Center in Southeast arrived at the pool at 6 a.m. sharp. She enjoys the sport and the opportunity to travel around the country. But, this month is a time to acknowledge the many achievements of blacks like Harriet Tubman, Aleshee said.
Tubman was one of the most influential black conductors with the underground railroad that led escaping slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. Tubman's tenacity and boldness impressed Aleshee, she said.
Her teammate, Brooke Ashley Robinson, 13, who attends Holy Trinity School in Georgetown, joined the D.C. Parks and Recreation Competitive Swim program three years ago. She used the day to salute Madame C.J. Walker.
"She was the first black female millionaire because of her [innovations] in hair care products [for blacks]. I don't think we hear enough about her we hear a lot about Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.," Brooke said.
The eighth-grader has a few modern-day heroines and heroes.
"I'd have to say black actors and professional athletes because they dedicate their lives to achieving excellence," Brooke said.
Michael Jackson, a teacher from Philadelphia, attended the event with his sister, mother and two nephews. They drove down to cheer on his niece, Yashira, 13.
"I think this is fantastic. I'm impressed with the discipline involved in this sport, and I think it's a very positive event because swimming is not traditionally associated with African Americans. Some of these kids compete on a national level, and swimming gives them an opportunity to further their education," Mr. Jackson, 39, said. Most major colleges and universities offer academic scholarships to top high school swimmers.
"It's a team effort, but it is also an individual effort. It comes down to the swimmers putting their best foot forward," he said.
Joseph DeShields, 9, representing the Mount Vernon Family YMCA Water Dragons from Mount Vernon, N.Y., said he will keep in mind the determination and focus of the late Martin Luther King as he competes.
"He stood up for his rights and for the rights of other African Americans," said the fourth-grader, who attends Nativity Catholic School in the Bronx.


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