I have a confession to make. I broke a promise to a dear friend. I’ll explain later, but for now a little background story.
On August 8th, 2006, 16-year-old John Joshua (Josh) Butts, went to a lake in Toledo, OH to enjoy some fun with his friends and escape the hot August weather that was beating down upon them.
Josh, was in a raft on the river when suddenly several of his friends decided to join him and jumped in. The impact of these boys jumping in caused Josh to lose his balance and be thrown overboard. Josh, didn’t know how to swim and neither did any of his friends.
On, August 8th, 2006, Josh silently sank below the waters on that river and drowned.
His mother, Wanda Jean Butts, was notified that her son had drowned. When she heard the news she dropped the phone and started screaming. Overcome with grief and anger. Wanda, like so many other mothers in the African American community worry about a lot of things when their kids go out, but learning about water safety never crossed her mind. Like so many other African American children, Josh was never taught water safety.
Remember, Black children drown nearly five times the rate of Whites.
But rather than live in her loss, Wanda decided to do something about the drowning rates that plague our community. In 2007, she founded a non-profit called The Josh Project who’s mission is to: Build basic swimming skills and knowledge of water safety to prevent drowning and water related injury.
I had the honor of meeting Wanda back in 2012 when she and a friend were visiting San Francisco. We had been in communication for the past several months through our mutual relationship with another non-profit Diversity in Aquatics. At the time I was scheduled to attempt a crossing of The Cook Strait in New Zealand, in December of 2013.
I told Wanda of how amazed I was at all she had done for not only children in her local Toledo, OH area, but also kids all across the country who were finding out that water safety is a paramount life-skill.
She in turn, brushed all of her accomplishments aside and only wanted to hear about my swim and how my training was going. After about an hour or so of the two of us chatting, I came up with an idea:
“Wanda, why don’t I use this swim to try and raise money for The Josh Project?!” Her eyes lit up and she felt this was a great idea.
Sadly, I was never able to attempt my swim. Just prior to my December 2013 attempt I developed a mysterious auto-immune disease, that made my joints so stiff I felt like I had been beaten by a sledge hammer, I went blind in my right eye, and couldn’t see much better out of the left. this affliction went on for over a month. I went to see every know specialists, who ran every sort of test but they, to this day, could not figure out what was wrong with me. Luckily my body responded to medical steroids and I have been pain free since 2014.
I haven’t spoken too Wanda in some time. Mainly because I felt I had let her down when I was unable to fulfill my promise and raise money via my swim, but now I have a new opportunity. This time, that promise will be kept. This time I will swim, it’s not The Cook Strait, but The Santa Barbara Channel will do just fine thank you very much.
This swim was never really about me truth be told. Some may have that assumption but that was never my intention. No, this has always been about fulfilling a promise I made to a lovely woman seven-years-ago.
A promise that I intend to keep.