Pastor George A. McKinney and his family were hosting a pool party four years ago. Several children and families were gathered, fellowshipping and having a good time. Nothing out of the ordinary for this annual event, which Pastor McKinney had been hosting for more than a decade without incident.
"Albert was 7; my son was 9 at the time. They were friends. They had gone to Magic Mountain together. There were some other kids there as well and they were having a great time," McKinney remembers He vividly remembers about six or seven children in the pool that time, saying, "Albert was running around the house, having a great time, playing video games with my son. Normal kids’ stuff."
But what was a normal, joyous time quickly turned to tragedy.
During the party, the kids were playing dead man float, and as fate would have it, Albert got in trouble. No one immediately noticed and before anyone caught on, Albert was at the bottom of the pool. Once he was discovered, a few people immediately dove to the bottom of the pool, and brought Albert to the pools edge, began to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (CPR), as one of the parents called 911.
The paramedics came and rushed Albert to the hospital. But he could not be saved. Pastor McKinney, his family and all families involved were deeply impacted by the tragedy
Psychologist Lorraine Johnson, mother of Rudy Johnson, came to counseling with everyone involved at the McKinney’s home.
"During that meeting she talked about how to get over the trauma. These things are things that can happen. And certain things are God’s will. And every experience, good or bad, can be a learning experience, or a teaching tool,’ she said."
But Pastor McKinney wrestled with Albert’s death. "I asked the Lord, ‘What is to be learned from this?’ To me it was a senseless tragedy. It was at that time, I initially started seeing some visions of a device. Then I had a dream and in the dream I saw schematics, what it would look like. The Lord started showing me these things. So I started committing my thoughts to paper, and that was the birth of AJADD."
AJADD, named after Albert, is a life-saving device; an underwater distress signal device in the form of a watch or hand instrument that would be worn on the body. The device uses GPS technology, vitality monitoring, and swimmer identification technologies to alert of a swimmer’s imminent danger. AJADD sends and receives signals in real time to a lifeguard, or a caretaker, on land, or on ship.
"The problem with most drownings is that you can’t even tell, they look like they’re just playing in water so before you know it, it’s too late," said Pastor McKinney. "There’s like a 2 – 3 minute window that you have to get to them. A device that creates early detection is so important."
During the patent process is when Pastor McKinney began to understand the devastating effects accidental drowning has on the African American community. He began to study drowning, and discovered the horrifying effects it has on African American children.
"I started inquiring into the lives of African American families, within my church and in the community and I found that many African American families have had a cousin, sister, or close friend who has drowned – but yet, nobody ever reports that this is a problem. This is an unaddressed problem in the African American community."
Pastor McKinney’s father, Bishop George D. McKinney, is a proponent of teaching youth to swim, taught Pastor McKinney and his siblings to swim at a young age. Pastor McKinney carries this sentiment with him, which helped guide him to the creation of AJADD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of people who drown are male. Children ages 1- 4 have the highest drowning rates and most of those drownings occur in homes or swimming pools. The disparity is widest among children 5 – 14 years old. But what is most discouraging is that the fatal drowning rate of African American children in this age group is almost three times that of white children.
"Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn to swim – which usually comes from their parents – they don’t want to get in the water, and choosing water recreational activities, contribute to these statistics," said Pastor McKinney. "In the poorer communities, we don’t choose water-related activities. So we’re not accustomed. We get out there and we’re not used to it, and we get in trouble. Choosing water-related activities contributes to the racial differences in drowning rates."