Dr. Nevada Winrow, CEO and Founder of the Black Girls Dive Foundation, says she was destined to love water. Her mom was taking her to swim classes at the YWCA before she was even a year old.
“That's my safe space is just to be in water,” said Dr. Winrow.
A pediatric neuropsychologist and PADI certified divemaster, Dr. Winrow started the nonprofit organization in 2017. She says she got the idea for the foundation after attending an annual scuba diving summit and discussing the lack of representation of African American women in the scuba diving industry.
The Maryland-based program aims to teach young women who are historically underrepresented in STEM.
Black Girls Dive students have the opportunity to learn about marine sciences, scuba diving, underwater photography, and remote-operated vehicles among other things. Participants of the program can start as early as age 9 and continue their education and training all the way up to college.
“The ultimate goal for our organization is to provide young ladies the opportunity to have other choices,” said Dr. Winrow.
Dwayne Johnson, lead instructor for Black Girls Dive, says the sport of scuba diving has some major financial barriers.
“Originally, when we set out, it was, ‘What are the biggest barriers to entry for training youth, especially inner-city youth, to scuba dive?’ So, one of them was equipment,” said Johnson.
Dr. Winrow says because of that financial barrier, the Black Girls Dive program is free for students to get scuba training. She says the program also aims to break down some societal barriers as well.
“Some of the stigmas in the African-American community are that we shouldn't swim, which is ridiculous. I think it's a life skill, I think just like you should learn how to drive. You know, no one's asking you to be Michael Phelps, but know how to save your life if you fall in water,” said Dr. Winrow.
Black Girls Dive student Alex Johnson says at first, she was hesitant to participate, but as soon as she saw other girls scuba diving she decided to give it a try.
“If it was an all-boys thing and you're the only girl, you would feel out of place. So, it feels kind of nice to have all girls, not being afraid to talk about anything,” said Alex Johnson.
Johnson says his vision is to help facilitate more diversity in the sport.
“When people dive now, they may see one or two Black people on a boat diving. I want them to be able to say, ‘OK, there's a graduate from Black Girls Dive Foundation, and they know how to dive, I want to be dive buddies with them,’” said Dwayne Johnson.