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He almost drowned at the age of 5, now Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones is using his watery swag to reduce the high number of drowning deaths among African-American children.

Jones won gold in 2008 and is competing in the London games, but in the off-season, he travels the nation with the Make a Splash Initiative, educating minority kids about swimming and safety.

One study says 70% of African-American kids cannot swim, compared to 40% of white kids, and that African-American kids between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than other children.

“I remember what it feels like to be underwater and I remember what it feels like to be helpless,” Cullen tells NBC’s Rock Center.

The primary reason that African-American youngsters don’t know how to swim, according to the University of Memphis study, is because their parents are terrified they’ll drown—they don’t want them near the water, period, and that includes swimming lessons. “It has been a legacy of fear” that affects generation after generation, says one researcher.

“We always thought this was an income thing,” explains Jones, “and then we started talking to more and more people. It’s the fear aspect.”