RIDGEWOOD, N.J. – Charlotte Samuels of Ridgewood, a record-setting swimmer, was honored for her community leadership by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee of Ridgewood and Glen Rock .
Samuels, a Ridgewood High School senior, holds the world record for being the youngest to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
But her broader concerns have to do with swimming skills as a social justice issue.
Individually, Samuels has raised more than $7,000 for Citizens for Swimming, which provides free water safety instruction for youth in Paterson, and Swim Free, a similar organization serving inner city kids in Manhattan.
She also has participated in team fundraisers that collected more than $3,000 for Swim Across America, a national organization that raises funds for cancer research.
At the award ceremony, which took place Sunday at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, she was presented a $500 donation to help with her efforts.
“Not being afraid of water should be a basic human right,” said Samuels, 18. “Some people who live in communities surrounded by water are so bounded to the way they live because they don’t know how to swim at all.
“That fear gets passed from generation to generation,” she added. “It’s really sad and it’s not OK.”
Everybody, she said, should at least know how to keep themselves safe in water.
Drowning is an epidemic now, she pointed out, especially in African American communities.
Seventy percent of African Americans and 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim, according to a joint study of the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis.
Samuels, who is on the Bergen Barracuda Swim Team, is planning a 20-mile swim in the beginning of July. For the rest of the summer, she will work as a lifeguard and do more volunteer work with Citizens for Swimming and the Ridgewood YWCA.
In the fall, she is headed for Smith College.
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