Goldfish Swim School’s mission is to help all children learn how to be safer in and around the water - while making their experience Golden! From our schools to our Franchise Support Office, we take great pride in providing a welcoming environment for all, and to celebrating diversity while encouraging inclusion, acceptance and treating all people with Integrity, Compassion and Trust!
In celebration of Black History Month, we connected with World Champion Swimmer and DEI Advocate Cullen Jones. Cullen is the newest Goldfish Swim School Ambassador, and not only is he known for being an inspirational role model in the world of swimming, he’s also known as ‘dad’ to his son Avyn. Through our conversation, we learned more about Cullen’s thoughts around inclusivity of children - how he approaches the subject with his own little fish, what parents can do to promote celebration of differences, and his Big Dreams of universal acceptance and seeing more Black Swimmers make waves in the sport!
Q: What is your definition of inclusivity?
Cullen: This is such a broad question! It’s really hard for me to define a word that I feel like has so much meaning. In the fewest words, I think being inclusive means that everyone is, and really feels, welcome wherever they go. Everyone, always, should be included in every situation they’re in, and we all should have the same opportunities across the board.
Q: How do you intend on helping Avyn understand inclusivity?
Cullen: As a parent, I want my child to understand that being inclusive means we accept others for who they are. I am black, my wife is Indian, my son is bi-racial - and there are so many different races and religions out there that are different from ours. I think it’s important for everyone, my son included, to be acceptive of others and to learn from differences. I want Avyn to learn from all of the different cultures and from other people, to understand that differences are worth celebrating!
Q: How can families talk to their children about inclusivity?
Cullen: I think it’s really important to teach your children about inclusivity by having and promoting conversations. I would hope that other families are doing this as much as my wife and I are with Avyn. It’s how we can understand each other in a really meaningful way. What people see as different doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of - differences are experiences! It’s really the easiest thing to do, but it’s sometimes the hardest for a lot of people. If you’re hearing kids say discriminatory comments, or things that aren’t socially acceptable, or you’re hearing or seeing bullying, or triggers, start talking! That’s when it’s time for deeper conversations with your children. It’s important that they know being different isn’t bad or wrong, that it’s a strength! You have to listen to your children, and how they’re describing people around them. If they’re saying somebody is weird or different, then ask them ‘how?’ or ‘why?’ and really nurture that conversation.
Q: How do you hope your son's experiences are different from yours growing up?
Cullen: Growing up, I didn’t always feel invited into certain aspects of the sport of swimming. It’s no secret that swimming is a white-dominated sport and I did feel discrimination throughout my career. I don’t want Avyn to feel that, though sadly, I know he likely will at some point. If he does experience discrimination, I hope he is strong enough to move past it, to persevere, and to know that those biased opinions, thoughts, or statements are not a reflection of who he is.
Q: During what situations can you already see your son experiencing inclusion?
Cullen: Being 2 ½, Avyn’s major activities are being around family. Outside of spending time with family, he takes swim lessons at Goldfish - Charlotte in North Carolina. Charlotte is a melting pot of diversity, it’s part of why we love it here! At Goldfish, Avyn gets to be around other kids of different races and religions, and to interact with them in many ways. He - and we! - always feel welcome at Goldfish, and it’s a great place for him to learn socialization skills before daycare!
Q: If you could extend a challenge to families in 2022, what would it be?
Cullen: I’d challenge parents to listen and engage deeper into their children’s conversations and their daily routines. Watch what they’re watching on YouTube or on social media. You never know what they could be picking up from what they’re watching, or what they don’t understand. Make sure they understand what it means to be inclusive, and encourage those positive conversations!
Q: We’re celebrating Dreams Coming True In 2022! What dreams do you hope come true for Avyn and your family this year, and those to come?
Cullen: My dream for Avyn, and for my family, is to just be happy - no matter what it looks like. My son will have trials, and it won’t always be easy - but I want him to have the strength to power through, and I truly just want him to be happy this year and throughout the rest of his life.
Q: Along those same lines, what are your dreams for the world of swimming this year and those to come?
Cullen: There has absolutely been a lot of progress in bridging the minority gap in swimming, but there is more that needs to be done. We need more conversations about learning to swim. Groups like Goldfish Swim School and the USA Swimming Foundation are pillars in the community to help families hear and understand the importance of learning to swim. I hear people of color say all the time, ‘I never thought about learning to swim, or swim lessons,' but then they say they signed up for lessons when they heard me talking about it, or after Goldfish did a Water Safety Presentation at their school. Talking about water safety for all people - this is what gets people to take action. And, it’s working! Like I said, we’ve come a long way, but have a long way to go.
Through diving deeper into the topic of inclusivity of children with Cullen, we are proud to stand by our commitment to making Goldfish Swim School a Golden Experience for all children and families alike; a place where they can learn to be safer in and around the water, and to celebrate progress while learning life skills, like goal-setting, hard work, socialization and inclusivity!
We aren’t alone! Swim over to the USA Swimming Foundation’s website to learn more about their goal for all children to learn to swim, and keep an eye out for more insight from Cullen as we continue to celebrate Black History Month!
Want to learn more about swim lessons for your child? We have schools across North America ready to welcome you and your little swimmer!