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Simone Manuel surprises students with free laptops, internet


Simone Manuel knows just how important access was on her path to becoming an Olympic champion swimmer. Now, she’s helping create opportunities for the next generation.

Manuel, the first Black female swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S., partnered with Comcast to surprise students with 1,000 free laptops and free WiFi for three years at recreational facilities in Oakland, California, on Thursday.

A total of $100,000 was also contributed to the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation through the company’s Internet Essentials program.

“An awesome program that really is about providing the internet to people who normally don’t have access to it,” Manuel, who spoke virtually with Oakland students, said on “Brother from Another” on Peacock on Thursday. “And we all know that access provides great opportunities to people.”

When Manuel was 12 years old, she wrestled with whether swimming was the sport for her. She saw a lack of representation and faced racism. One day after practice, she asked her mom why there weren’t many swimmers who looked like her.

“It was really important for us to sit down and really research the history of Black people in swimming,” Manuel said. “That day really showed me that Black people can swim. We just didn’t have access to do so. I was fortunate to have the access to swim, and I was going to pursue my dreams and work to hopefully change that for children in the sport of swimming.”

Manuel noted that a primary reason for a high drowning rate in minority communities is a lack of access.

“I think the same applies to education,” she said, noting bringing awareness to close the digital divide. “Providing access to people always allows them to really see that they can do something. They can achieve something. It gives them the opportunity to see these doors open for them.”

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