African/African American Studies

Divers With a Purpose - Dr. Rik Stevenson - July, 2013

Date: July 26, 2013


My name is Rik Stevenson, I am an adjunct professor, in the area of African American and African Studies at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Michigan, I am also a Ph.D. student, in the area of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University. My primary research interests lie in the Middle Passage, the Diaspora, and my main interests are in the research of slave ships, specifically sunken slave ships. Over the past several weeks we have been bombarded by the media with the death of a teenager named Trayvon Martin. A young child who was shot and killed by a grown man named George Zimmerman. Trayvon was shot because he “fit the description”. The description of a menace to society in the the eyes of Zimmerman. America is presently sitting on a powder keg of racism due to a culture of profiling of our young black and Hispanic males. Trayvon was profiled by Zimmerman because he was a young black person wearing a hoodie in the rain. My mother often told us when we were young that “you can’t tell a book by its cover”. If you really want to know what a book is about, you’ll have to read it. The same goes for people and especially our young people. Every young person wearing a hoodie is not a criminal! I have just spent a week with a group phenomenally intelligent, energetic and inquisitive young people, many of whom could “fit the description”. Young people with aspirations in a marine archeology, maritime archeological preservation, and marine environmental law.

I was a part of a course presented by the Divers With a Purpose, a branch of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) and (YDWP) in Florida City, Florida. DWP focuses on wreck site mapping in The Biscayne National Park Working in conjunction with the BNP, DWP and YDWP assists in mapping wreck sites in the 200 square mile park which is over 95% water. The Program consists of young people from all over the country and the world to get a first hand glimpse of studying marine archeology. We were also blessed to have a young woman from Mozambique, name Kudzi. She is the first woman in her country to become a certified scuba instructor, she has logged 1800, dives and is one of two females who are certified scuba diving instructors on their entire continent of the Africa. Each of the young people in this Program would have “fit the description” of Trayvon Martin. What’s interesting however, is in this group of young people are future scientist, lawyers, Medical doctors and marine archeologist all of whom could have been easily profiled by Zimmerman and Zimmerman wannabes’. The difference as I see it is YDWP and its director, Mr. Ken Stewart and his staff of professional divers, (all of whom are African American I might add). Stewart began this program as a way to reach young people who could have found themselves on the street corners at night of any major city in America as opposed to preparing to dive in the great seas and oceans of our planet with the focus of protecting it. The YDWP Program reaches out to young people and introduces them to ocean environmental preservation, and challenges them to see the planet as their own and requires them to do something to preserve it. The students are required to attend intense classes on the fundamentals of marine archeology and site mapping. They are required to write daily blogs and journals of their experiences. They are taught trilateration techniques, which evolve into “In Situ” drawings of the site. 1 This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I am sure for many of the teens as well. I say all of this to offer a challenge to you the reader. Be sure that you don’t become a an profiler by default. Let’s take a second look at our young people and rather than assume that a kid in a hoodie is criminal, how about assuming that he or she is future doctor, lawyer, mathematician or marine archeologist. They’re out there! I know, because I just spent an incredible week with a few of them.

#1 In situ is a Latin phrase that translates literally to 'In position'. It is used in many different
contexts. Contents. 1 Aerospace; 2 Archaeology; 3 Art; 4 Astronomy.

See all news