Diving program teaches kids to document sunken slave ships

In the quest to create a more complete picture of African-American genealogy, an underwater archaeology group called Diving With a Purpose (DWP) focuses on documenting old slave ships that have sunk to the bottom of the sea. Documenting these ships and other artifacts of the transatlantic slave trade, however, is a painstaking process that takes years to complete, and Mother Nature is working quickly to take back her belongings. For that reason, DWP has created a youth program to train as many young divers as possible to become marine archaeologists.

The program, which is called Youth DWP, doesn’t teach diving. The youngsters come certified with a few dives under their belts. Instead, the program teaches the principle skills of archeology, first on dry land and then deploying them underwater.

As described in Freethink, a mock wreck site is first assembled on land where divers learn to draw a baseline (used to locate all the finds around the wreck), form a grid, take precise measurements, and make scale drawings of artifacts. After their terrestrial crash course, they hit the seas, and by the end of the week, they have tangible evidence of their contribution: a slice of seafloor map, a small section of the brick wall chipped away.

For DWP instructor Ernie Franklin, diving for the ghoulish remnants of the transatlantic slave trade is cathartic. As an African-American growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, scuba diving wasn’t something he necessarily was allowed to do: he was a lifeguard and provided safety support for dive classes, and yet, he was told it wasn’t possible for him to scuba dive because his bones were too dense and his lung capacity was too small. Physiology, however, had nothing to do with it.

“It was straight-up racist,” said Franklin. “At that time, back in the old days, scuba diving wasn’t something an African-American kid … was exposed to.”

Flash forward to today, and Franklin is teaching youth from all walks of life to dive and document sunken history. What’s beautiful is that the efforts of Franklin and the DWP are not going unnoticed. In fact, the Washington Post, National Geographic, and the Epix series “Enslaved,” hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, have all covered their efforts.

“To think about where I’ve come from so that they can be where they are? It was all worth it,” Franklin says. “And my hope is these kids understand and keep it going, because of the effort that was put before.”

Image source: DWP

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