Saving Lives One Routine at a Time
For more than 40 years, a synchronised swimming club in Harlem has helped keep members active in the water and in their community.
"In Good Company" is a series about athletic teams and clubs that are challenging the status quo.
In a small cul-de-sac off Harlem's West 135th Street, twenty-odd self-proclaimed "old-timers" in masks and matching red tracksuits greet each other with elbow bumps instead of hugs. For the first time in months, they mingle in front of the Hansborough Recreation Center—known to them as simply "The Bathhouse". Within its stunning mosaic-tiled pool, these women and men have practised their strokes and balletic eggbeater kicks as part of the Harlem Honeys & Bears, a senior-citizen synchronised swimming team that's been making waves since 1979. The team's name was inspired by a bit of late '70s slang, according to team member Rasheedah Ali. "There were men and women; women are 'honeys'; and bears love honey! So they called themselves the Harlem Honeys & Bears", she says of the inaugural team.
Some members of the team have been swimming their entire lives, segregated pools notwithstanding; others didn't conquer their fear of the water until they were well into their 60s. Together, they've won awards, overcome chronic illnesses, forged friendships, and perhaps most importantly, shared their passion and skills with the community at large through a youth swimming programme. "Your reward as a coach is to see these young men and women gliding through the water with the least effort", says Luther Gales, team president. And when studies show that Black youth are statistically more likely to become victims of accidental death by drowning, the Harlem Honeys & Bears are doing more than sharing the gift of sport—they're saving lives.
Meet the Honeys & Bears
Film: Keenan MacWilliam & Orian Barki
Photography: Flo Ngala
Words: Roxanne Fequiere
Reported: September 2020