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Mother shares story of son's drowning to inspire others to enroll children in swim lessons

CDC: Rate of Black kids drowning higher than white children
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Posted at 11:00 AM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 18:31:40-05

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Dina Antoine's three boys, ages 15,11 and 6, are learning how to swim.

"All kids, especially in Florida, they need to know how to swim," Antoine said.

Her newfound passion was born out of tragedy this past summer.

"I'm always thinking about Darwin," she said. "Only God knows. Only God knows. I don't know."

Her other son, Darwin, was 8-years-old when he drowned in a neighbor's pool in Palm Beach Gardens.

Dina Antoine, son drowned
Dina Antoine's son drowned in a pool in Palm Beach Gardens in 2021.

"He said the dog was barking and going back and forth," Antoine said. "When he come outside and looked, he saw Darwin under the water."

The pain of losing a son to drowning is still raw.

"I was saying, 'God, you took Darwin too early,'" she said. "I said that yesterday. I am a woman of God, I am not supposed to say that, but sometimes I just look at all three, and I feel like I really miss one."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the swimming pool, African American children between the ages of 5 and 19 are five-and-a-half times more likely to drown than white children.

Darwin, drowning victim in Palm Beach Gardens in 2021
Darwin died after he drowned in a Palm Beach Gardens pool last summer.

It's a startling statistic, but one woman in Palm Beach Gardens is on a mission to change that through access and affordability to swim lessons.

"This stems from parents not knowing how to swim, and it's passed down from generation to generation," said Keri Morrison, the founder of the Live Like Jake Foundation. "Fear of the water. Therefore they don't want their children in the water. I feel like that's why those numbers are the way that they are."

She's aiming to bring awareness to drowning prevention.

"Drowning actually does not discriminate," she said. "There is no season for it. We had six drownings in December, 98 for the entire year. It is a record high."

Keri Morrison, the founder of the Live Like Jake Foundation
Keri Morrison founded the Live Like Jake Foundation after the death of her son.

Her commitment also comes from a place of pain. Her son drowned eight years ago.

"On Thanksgiving Day, my son slipped out of an unlocked door supervised by several adults and older children, fell into the Intracoastal Waterway and lost his life," she said. "I still can't talk about it without getting choked up, because your whole world, your whole world stops when you lose a child … but when it is to something preventable, the guilt really is really hard to deal with."

Her focus is now on underserved areas of Palm Beach County. She pointed to two children losing their lives in November.

"We had the two drownings out in Belle Glade and immediately, I'm like, 'What could we have done?'" she asked. "What can we do better out in that area to make sure lessons are accessible there, so we are going to work on that this year."

Live Like Jake gives swim lesson scholarships. Erica Lyles, a mother, has her 9-month-old, Paul, learning how to float.

Erica Lyles, having her son take son lessons
Erica Lyles is having her young son take lessons to learn how to float.

"I think that being a Black family, it was important to me to make sure that he was not afraid of the water, that he was oriented, that he could function and survive," Lyles said.

She said she's trying to break the cycle.

"I have a lot of friends and family that don't know how to swim, and they are adults," she said. "And they are terrified of the water, and it's not safe ... I just wanted him to be different and have a different story."

It's one of many different stories that Antoine hopes to see. She said she hopes that by sharing her story, she saves lives.

"All kids need to learn how to swim. And always when you have kids to teach them, hug them, support them because life really, really feels short," Antoine said. "I miss everything about Darwin. Darwin always had something to say to me. All of the pictures I have with Darwin, [he is] always kissing, hugging me."

Click here to learn more about swim scholarships for lessons, you can visit the Live Like Jake Foundation.