She dreams big and dreams differently

Simone Ashley Manuel is the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming. [CC BY-SA 4.0]

BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief

Do you ever wonder what messages we are feeding our girls? Furthermore, what are we telling African-American girls about the possibilities of her future?

Are we still in a time when the message is that a prince will come to save her, although he may not come riding a white horse? Are you telling her to be cute but not too sassy? Do we encourage her to trust other girls?

Meet Simone Ashley Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming. She also set an Olympic record and an American record.

She is one of the first three African-American women to place in the top three spots in the 100-yard freestyle event in any Division I NCAA Swimming Championship.

Currently, Manuel is an ambassador for the International Swimming League, the world’s first professional swimming league. She was born Aug. 2, 1996, and is an alumna of Stanford University.

There was a time when girls were not encouraged to play sports. Well-known studies are showing, however, that there are great mental, spiritual and physical benefits to girls and women when she does.

Although every child is different, these benefits include higher self-esteem, lower rates of depression and risk of suicide, better self-image, increased community involvement as adults, lower rates of high school dropout, better with math and science, and better self-reported health.

Manuel grew up with two older brothers. Her parents did not attempt to steer her interest away from participating in competitive sports because she was their little girl. Instead, they encouraged all three children to play competitively. Not surprisingly, she followed her older brothers’ lead right into the pool.

At four years old, Manuel began taking swimming lessons after watching her brothers swim with a team. By 11, she was swimming in a local club called First Colony Swim Team.

Her interest in swimming at four was largely due to the fact that her parents introduced her to the idea of having fun in a pool without fear or bias. Swimming is thought to be a sport that does not appeal to black girls for a variety of reasons. Manuel was encouraged to dream big and to dream differently.

Who would have thought that swimming would take Manuel around the world and land her in record books and with endorsement deals? Well, she did.

Manuel specializes in sprint freestyle. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she won two gold and two silver medals. Specifically, Manuel won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and another in the 4×100-meter medley.

Also she won a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle and another one in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Manuel also holds three world records as a member of a relay team.

Keisha Bell

She is also a six-time individual NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships champion and helped Stanford University win the NCAA team championship in women’s swimming and diving in 2017 and 2018.

Being conscious of the messages we give to girls is essential. What history will she make if she is encouraged to dream BIG and to dream differently? Time will tell.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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