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The Undercurrents Of Swimming To Ferguson

Courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio, Missouri.

In 2014, St. Louis, Missouri was roiled in public protests for weeks after Michael Brown was the fatally shot by a police officer. The racial overtones of the shooting were undeniable as a majority of Ferguson’s residents are predominately black, but its city council and police department were both predominantly white when Brown was killed.

Marathon swimmer Henry Biggs decided to try to help the situation. And film director Derek Elz decided to document and tell the story on film. Swimming to Ferguson is the result of their work. The film is currently shown at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, between September 14th – 20th.

Swimming to Ferguson is about Biggs who took direct action.

The local St. Louisan took to the water – as he had previously done 26 years earlier – and decided to enter the 45.9 km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in New York.

He began a campaign, Can He Do It?, and asked for donations of US dollar per mile to support things that would make the Ferguson area better.

Ultimately, Biggs’ effort and campaign raised US$120,000 for three local causes in Ferguson: Big Brothers Big Sisters, CHADS Coalition for Mental Health and St. Louis Community College.

In 1988, Biggs had willed himself to swim across the English Channel in 12 hours 59 minutes at the age of 24. In the aftermath of the Ferguson issue, he won the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in New York in 8 hours 32 minutes at the age of 51 that served as the backdrop of the film while addressing the issue of the racial dissension and divide in Ferguson.

After his success of two legs of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, Biggs extended his Can He Do It? campaign and tried to attempted to swim across the Catalina Channel.

While the challenge of a channel swim was one current in the movie, director Elz also highlighted the events and aftermath of the Ferguson unrest. Elz says, “I think it is really just about what can any of us do. There are bad things in the world. What can you do to mitigate those, what can you do to step in and not just be an observer of the troubles in society and get moving and try to help?

We try to fairly lay out some of the issues that were brought up by these experts [including] three or four people on the Ferguson Commission – and tried to be honest and as fair as we could be, to be respectful to the police side, to be respectable to the African-American community side, to try to just let it unfold.”

To listen to Biggs and Elz talk about Swimming to Ferguson, visit here.

The film summary is there:

In the aftermath of the Ferguson riots, a St. Louis native Henry Biggs takes a unique approach to ford the great racial divide, swimming 28 miles around Manhattan to raise $120,000 for the Ferguson area. Narrated by Joe Buck, Swimming to Ferguson is a documentary about racial tension and tragedy and the impossible divide between perspectives—with a call to do the impossible and bridge that divide. Intriguingly mashing the fires of Ferguson with Biggs’ bone-chilling ocean swims, Swimming to Ferguson is a call to action for understanding, respectful dialogue—and peace. Biggs ultimately attempts to complete open-water swimming’s rare triple crown: the English Channel, circling Manhattan and the Catalina Channel.”

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