NewsNation | July 27, 2012
>> the phelps/lochte battle may be dominate being talk about the men's u.s. swim team but u.s. swimmer cullen jones is looking to make history in ron done as well and is getting attention for his personal mission here at home. it was born out of tragedy, one that's all too common among african-american children. our own tamron hall sat down with the olympic gold medallist and revealed something about herself in the meantime.
>> swimmer cullen jones is a he hero in his new jersey hometown. they even named a street after him. it's hard to believe that jones , one of the world's fastest men in a pool nearly died in the water. he was just 5 years old when he went to a local water park . at the time he didn't know how to swim.
>> you get on the inner tube, you go down the tunnel, everyone screams, you hit the pool at the bottom and gently coast from the deep end to the shallow end.
>> cullen came out of that water slide and unexpectedly flipped over in that deep end of the pool.
>> and i remember what it feels like to be helpless. i was underwater, i couldn't breathe. they pulled me out of the water. my parents told me i was clinically dead .
>> your parents there, i imagine --
>> my mom was in tears, my dad was trying to console her and the lifeguard was giving me cpr.
>> reporter: within one week cullen 's mom put her son in a swimming class. 19 years later he was an olympian in beijing. now jones is using his olympic status to bring attention to the shocking number of african- americans , especially children, who are dying in the water.
>> they put in front of me the drowning statistics. african- americans are three times more likely to drown than any other race. i read that and it hit me this is crazy.
>> reporter: a major reason, 70% of african-american children have little or no swimming skills.
>> we talked to african- americans and what if we give you swimming lessons for free? the parents said no. we were said why?
>> reporter: they asked university of memphis carol logan to conduct the first study.
>> we asked why don't black people swim?
>> you go into an urban area , a white professor and asked why don't black people swim?
>> reporter: they aid -- in the end there was one overwhelming reason.
>> number one it was fear of drowning .
>> we thought it was an income thing. when we started talking to more and more people, it's the fear aspect. you have parents that have had traumatic instances in their lives and they put it on to their children and treat the water like hot, stay away.
>> reporter: it's a cycle of fear that only results in more tragedies. rene and willy were proud the eight children in their blended family got along so well.
>> we were always really close.
>> reporter: did you raise them that way to be close?
>> they spent a lot of time with each other.
>> we are such a close-knit family and did everything together.
>> reporter: three of their sons, all honor students, were especially tight. in august of 2010 , the three went to the nearby red river with another family, to a popular spot where local goes to escape the heat of summer. within minutes of arriving, a friend of the boys went wading into the river but he got into trouble after he suddenly slipped into deep water . he panicked. one after another the three boys all jumped in to help. chris was at a nearby beach with a woman came dashing towards him.
>> here is this lady running down the beach arms in the air screaming "help, help, my babies can't swim."
>> a call was made to 911.
>> they drowning, they drowning. we got three people drowning.
>> water was everywhere, splashing. arms, could see arms flapping around.
>> reporter: one by one all three brother drown and so did three of their friend who is also tried to help. a total of six lives lost. chris patlynn was able to save one person, the teen-ager who first got into trouble. none of the adults who brought the kids to the river that day knew how to swim. they could only scream for help.
>> it was probably the hardest thing i could see a parent do is watching their kids drown.
>> reporter: willie blalock couldn't believe the news from his wife.
>> walked in the house, seen her first and was like they're gone.
>> i was in shreveport, louisiana and this was after the fatal drowning of those six kids. and it's hard for me because i know swim lessons is the answer and that's what i'm trying to preach.
>> reporter: so jones is trying to prevent more death through his program make a splash. the program has already taught more than a million kids since 2007 . the lessons are low cost or free. are you most at home in the water?
>> reporter: the louisiana tragedy also resonated with me because this simple walk in the pool is also a time for a confession. i am one of the statistics.
>> one of the problems that i will admit to everyone is i don't know how to swim. it's an embarrassment because i think that people instantly think, oh, you're black so you can't swim because black children who can't swim turn into --
>> adults who can't swim.
>> reporter: i share the fear that cullun witnesses so often. even putting my head in the water for just a second is overwhelming. i can't.
>> good! did you get water in your nose?
>> reporter: no.
>> then you're doing it right.
>> reporter: now my next step is to take the challenge and learn to swim, which won't be easy. cullen says after the olympics he's after more than just gold.
>> so as they cheer for you in these games, you want all of us to keep in mind that this is not just a sport.
>> it's not.
>> reporter: it's so much bigger.
>> you're saving your child's life by giving they lessons. you're saving lives, you really are.
>> you can watch more of tamron's swimming lessons on our web site . and find out what tamron says she will help cullen learn to do as well. it's all on our web site . our gut