The Blackest Questions

Olympian Cullen Jones strives for gold outside the pool

Episode 40

Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones is a history maker who dedicates his post-competition life to helping others. Not only is he passionate about teaching people water safety but he’s also leading the charge to close the racial gap in competitive swimming. Jones joins The Blackest Questions to talk about his community work, test his Black history knowledge, and share some life-saving swimming advice.

BEIJING – (L-R) Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak of the United States pose with the gold medal during the medal ceremony for the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay held at the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China. The United States finished the race in first place in a time of 3:08.24 and wins the gold medal and set a new World Record. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)


Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi, and welcome to The Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still have them anyway. Our guest for this episode is four time Olympic medalist Cullen Jones, and he’s a history maker himself. He’s the first Black swimmer to hold a world record. He was also a part of the legendary 2008, world record setting, 400 meter freestyle relay team. A record that has yet to be broken. That team, consisting of Cullen, Michael Phelps, Gary Webber, Gayle and Jason Lezak, brought home a gold medal in what is considered one of the most iconic moments in Olympics history. Cullen is now retired from swimming, is a husband, father and water safety advocate and ambassador, making it his mission to close the color gap in swimming and teach as many people to swim as possible. Cullen, I am super excited to have you here with us today. Are you ready to play The Blackest Question?

Cullen Jones [00:01:32] Doctor Greer after that intro? Absolutely. Shoot, let’s do it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:36] And we’ve never had the gold medalest here, so I’m just.

Cullen Jones [00:01:39] Thank you.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:40] Fan girling just a little bit. I’m super excited. Okay, let’s get to it. Question number one. Let’s have some fun. This organization started after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin back in 2012. Its mission is to eradicate white supremacy and support Black communities who are victims of violence. What is the name of this organization?

Cullen Jones [00:02:02] I have no idea.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:05] So the answer is Black Lives Matter.

Cullen Jones [00:02:08] Oh, okay. Of course.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:09] So the phrase actually began as a hashtag was used as a way to unite people in social media. The group continued to grow after the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014 and exploded in popularity following the death of George Floyd in 2020. The organization spearheads demonstrations around the world, usually responding to police brutality and systemic racism. And they have offices in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. So, Cullen, after the death of George Floyd, I know you were instrumental in the response USA Swimming gave to the public. Can you tell us about how you’re feeling at the time and why you thought it was important for the sport and its athletes not to stay silent?

Cullen Jones [00:02:47] Absolutely. You know, and it’s funny because, as you said, the hashtag, I was like, yes, Black Lives Matter, of course. And for me, it became very real for me because at that same time, my son was six months old and I came out of my house and later than I expected because I was working and I was walking my dog and a police officer actually was driving down the street, whipped his car around with the siren and came up to me and was like, you know, is everything okay? And I was actually living in my brother in law’s house at the time excuse me. And he lives in a very nice area, very affluent area. We have some nice cars in the driveway. But what really stuck out to me was my I’m sure to him was my six foot five Black frame. And he started questioning me about my dog and all of the thank God for my extensive knowledge of dogs. I really don’t Dr. have extensive knowledge, but here I am trying to make this officer feel comfortable with me being in this neighborhood when I am doing nothing but walking my dog.

Cullen Jones [00:03:55] And then I started thinking about my six month old son sitting in his crib, sleeping at that time that I would have to teach him how to disarm someone with a gun verbally. And it just hit me. And I was so upset. I was, you know, 24 hours after watching a man lynched, watching George Floyd, and I said to myself, there’s something that I got to do, something. I know that swimming has given me a platform to use my voice. I’ve been doing it for, at that time, 13 years, about learning to swim with the Make a Splash initiative. But there was something more I needed to do. And so I called up all of the Black swimmers that I knew, Maritza Correia, you know, Sabir Muhammad and all of these legendary swimmers and said, We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do more. And we started Team Black, which is essentially a council that actually helps with the USA swimming’s diversity equity and inclusion group as just the council. You know, we have swam every life cycle. How do we make the sport more inclusive of what our country looks like? And I know swimming is a white dominated sport, but we can change that with some of the success that we’ve had with Simone Manuel, with Lia Neal, with myself, with so many others. How do we change that? And so that’s why and I said, No more. So long I’ve been using my platforms to be kind of, you know. Non-biased, but I couldn’t stay silent any more after that.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:21] Yeah. And so you’ve been quite open about the racial gap in swimming. So tell us more about that. And you mentioned in passing the Splash initiative and what it’s like to be quite successful in a sport that doesn’t have a lot of people who look like you. You’re excelling at the highest levels and you’re also trying to bring in more people to the sport in what’s sometimes not a welcoming environment.

Cullen Jones [00:05:44] Absolutely. You know, in 2008, you know, as you can imagine, being Black in the Jersey New York area in the nineties wearing a Speedo and while all your friends are playing basketball, football, I got I got hazed quite a bit, got some comments thrown at me a little bit. So, you know, Dr. Greer it changed a little bit when you bring home a gold medal. Then it’s like, Oh my God.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:09] You know, the first round.

Cullen Jones [00:06:11] Changes the whole narrative and changes everything that people say to you. But, you know, right after that gold medal, you know, one of my friends said, you know what you just did for the sport of swimming? And I had no idea what they meant by that. And I started to kind of do a little bit of research, but then USA Swimming Foundation. And then Phillips 66, approached me and the University of UNLV and University of Memphis did a study, and the numbers were just astounding, 70%. And that’s at that time, 70% of African-Americans didn’t know how to swim. 60% of Latino Americans didn’t know how to swim, and 48% of Caucasians didn’t know how to swim. So this was a U.S. cultural problem. It was the second leading the second leading cause of death for kids under 14, next to car crashes. But it’s like we don’t see this every day. So a lot of people don’t recognize that nearly ten people drown a day like these numbers are absolutely staggering. And the CDC sees it as an epidemic. And so it was that moment that I started saying, okay, this is this is how I can help. This is how I can help change things. So we started the Make a Splash initiative and we started touring in 2009.

Make a Splash [00:07:18] Drowning takes too many young lives, but it’s totally preventable. Swim Lessons. Studies show that lessons reduce that risk by 88%. Go to USA Swimming Foundation dot org and enroll your child today.

Cullen Jones [00:07:32] We just celebrated 15 years this year, but the focus is really trying to try to get more kids of all races in color, but definitely in the Black community to learn to swim because we found out that generationally we could understand, given segregation and slavery, why there is a disproportionate number. But in 2023, unfortunately, we as a as Black Americans still say to ourselves, oh, swimming, we don’t do that.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:59] Right.

Cullen Jones [00:08:01] Meanwhile, we’re likely to drown five times more than any other race.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:05] Right.

Cullen Jones [00:08:05] So it’s more about not thinking, oh, we’re cool because we don’t do that. It’s about saving lives. And so that’s why. As you can tell I’m passionate, Dr. Greer.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:15]  I love this because, you know, I took swim lessons when I was a kid. You know, I grew up in the Philadelphia area. So, you know, a little bit of PDR. I did a summer, Philadelphia, probably recreation, and obviously there’s movies written about them. But over the course of our conversation, we’re going to delve a little bit deeper into some of these statistics and the work that you’re doing. I mean, you are just not just talented as an Olympic gold medalist, but a real blessing when it comes to the Black community and demystifying some of the dangers of water and how we can actually as a as a larger racial group, actually save lives, literally. Okay. So question number two, I feel I feel this one’s going to be a good one for you, Cullen. Are you ready?

Cullen Jones [00:08:57] I’m ready.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:58] This swimmer made history back in 2016 when she became the first Black woman to take home an Olympic gold medal in an individual swimming event. Who is she?

Cullen Jones [00:09:08] I’m going to go with Simone Manuel.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:10] You are correct. Simone and you mentioned her passing so. Oh, I hope we get like five Olympic medals, two gold, two silver and one bronze. And she holds three world records as a member of a relay team. And she broke several school records while at Stanford University. So I know that Simone’s an ambassador for the Make a Splash organization, which gives free swimming lessons and teaches pool safety to kids in underserved communities. You’re part of that. Tell us a little bit more about what you all are up to right now.

Cullen Jones [00:09:42] We know that once we get people to understand the importance, it changes lives. It changes the the family dynamic, and it really helps people from, listen, we never say safe. We don’t want to say safe because as good of a swimmer as I am, if I’m caught in a riptide, that’s going to be very difficult for me as well. So we want to tell people that be safer around the water. We want to help with swim lessons. We want to make sure that people are getting these swim lessons. And USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66, have made it very easy just by going on to the website of USA Swimming dot org slash make a splash or foundation, and you can learn how to get lessons in your area because we have local partners everywhere, or you can help someone else.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:25] Give us that website one more time.

Cullen Jones [00:10:27] Yeah, Adds USA Swimming dawg. Forward slash. Make a splash. Or you can go for his last foundation. Either one works and you can find out more about how you can sign up your child or another child. You know, because we all know somebody who doesn’t know how to swim. And honestly, this gift is it’s life. Literally, we are the only sport that exists that by doing this sport, it will save your life.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:51] Absolutely. Now, I read a story about, you know, you go into Dorney Park and I used to go to Dorney Park when I was a kid growing up in Philly. And so I read a story about, you know, you having a really life changing experience while in the water. Did you come from a family of swimmers or people who knew how to swim, or were you sort of the first one in your family to really get these lessons and take it seriously?

Cullen Jones [00:11:15] Well, I will say I’ll give my dad some credit. My dad did know how to swim. He could get across the pool pretty well. He wasn’t doing flip terms or anything crazy like like I do. But he was definitely able to to kind of keep himself above my mom that didn’t know how to swim. And as he said, I’m so happy you brought a PDR because Coach Ellis is a is a big mentor to me. I love that guy. And PDR is we swam against PDR where my team swam against. But there was much love for Philly in New Jersey. So as you said, I was at Dorney Park, a five year old only child with with his parents, and my dad won to get on the biggest ride there if he wanted to get on it, I want to get on it too. So I was very excited to hop on a but I never had swim lessons and so my dad went down the ride first. I went down second and as he was handing the inner tube to the next person because it was the most popular ride, I came down, flipped upside out and was underwater. Now, I’d never had some lessons. I didn’t know what to do. He only told me and made me promise to hold on to the inner tube. Whatever you do, don’t let go. So I’m underwater, holding on to this inner tube. And I think what’s so important about the story is that there were lifeguards there. My parents were there. And so many times we think about it in theater that you hear. “Help! Help! No! Help.” Like, that’s what we expect to hear when someone’s drowning. But that’s not what happens. Many times it’s silent. People go underwater and then they’re unable to come back up. And so don’t let me get on on cell phones. All it takes is one little ping of us not paying attention. And that’s what my dad was doing. He’s handing the inner tube to someone else and didn’t see me coming down. So that’s why it’s so important I had to be resuscitated that day. But I remember my parents standing over me, “Cullen, are you okay?” And the first thing came out of my mouth was, “What’s the next ride are we getting on?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:11] Right. But I mean, I think that’s such a pivotal moment in your life. And now fast forward 30 some odd years, you’re able to help save so many other lives and educate so many people about it, because it is you’re absolutely correct. We hear so much about like in the movies, we see people, quote unquote, drowning. But honestly, I think about all the athletes we hear every year who have private pools who lose children in their private homes and tragedy after tragedy and not just athletes, just, you know, people in the country writ large. And how it it is literally just a split second of not seeing something happen.

Cullen Jones [00:13:52] Absolutely. And that’s why it is so important that we try to not only teach our our kids, because I gave my mom, I’m not going to tell her age because.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:02] Black don’t crack. It doesn’t matter.

Cullen Jones [00:14:03] I ain’t going to do that because then I have to deal with it. But she is learning to swim. She’s learning right now. And it does not matter what your age is, it is important to learn to swim. We are not built for the water, but we can be safer on the water with formal lessons. So I don’t want to hear it because I know someone is going to give me some excuse when they watch this and say, Oh, well, I am allergic to, no.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:28] No and you know what? And there’s enough protective styles for our hair that we can figure it out. There’s good conditioners. I just before we go to question number three, I just pity the teacher where she’s like, So wait, your son is Cullen Jones. Like, I’m supposed to teach Cullen Jones with Mama how to swim? No pressure. Okay, Cullen, you ready for question number three?

Cullen Jones [00:14:49] I am.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:51] Okay. Question number three in the Blackest Question. History was made during the 2023 NFL draft when three of the four overall picks were Black quarterbacks. The number one pick went to the Carolina Panthers. Who is this football player?

Cullen Jones [00:15:06] Oh, my goodness. You’re getting me because I just saw him actually. Oh, give it to me.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:16] Okay. It’s Bryce Young.

Cullen Jones [00:15:18] Bryce. That’s right.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:19] Bryce Young was the star Quarterback at Alabama. I know. Listen, Cullen every time I play this game. You know, I played it with my podcast siblings, Panama Jackson and Michael Harriot. I’ve been O from ten, okay? This is why I like to be on the other side asking the questions. But Bryce Young was a star at the University of Alabama and won the league’s top honor in 2021 when he took home the Heisman Trophy. And after being drafted, Young said he was grateful to the other Black players he called pioneers, saying so many Black men have been overlooked throughout the years. And so Bryce Young grew up loving basketball and actually started his football career playing at the running back position before switching to quarterback. Now, as you know, I grew up in Philly, so I grew up in the Randall Cunningham era, Black quarterbacks. And in my household it’s like, you know, we support a Black quarterbacks and Black coaches. But I know you went to North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Are you a Panthers fan?

Cullen Jones [00:16:12] Look, I grew up and I am a Panthers fan now because I’ve become friends with quite a few other players, but I’m still a Giants fan. I grew up in New York, Jersey area. I can’t give up my Giants.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:26] The Giants are looking good. At some point, as a payback, an appreciation for you coming on the podcast. We’ll go to a Giants game. We’ll take a son, take your wife, have a whole Blackest Questions Day of Celebrating the Giants. Because I do enjoy watching the Giants. So I know you are an Olympic swimmer, as all of our listeners know. What are the sports do you enjoy watching or even playing?

Cullen Jones [00:16:47] Definitely watching my Knicks. I’m watching and Jimmy Butler is not not being too nice to us right now, But it’s okay. It’s all right.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:55] I call him Jimmy Butler, 0% body fat. I’m like where?

[00:17:01] I’m just happy to see the Knicks in the playoffs again it’s been a while since John Starks and Patrick Ewing. I’m happy to see is back in the playoffs so I’m a happy Knicks fan right now. Okay yeah I love playing basketball. My dad was a basketball player, wanted me to be a basketball player.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:17] At six foot five. I see why.

Cullen Jones [00:17:19] You know, it helps with swimming, too. It helps for swimming, too. I reach for that wall. But basketball is definitely something that I love to play. I like boxing. Honestly, that was my cross-training and it’s kind of become something that has been a little bit of a, not an obsession, but I definitely enjoy it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:41] Do you find that core strength helps you with swimming?

Cullen Jones [00:17:43] 100%, and that was what was the biggest piece that my coach actually introduced it to me and said, We’re going to do some boxing, just some of the core technique things. And it kind of threw me for the first, you know, I would say six months I was doing it. But then when I got in the water, I realized, you know, the core strength is is really it was really transferable over to swimming as well. And then I just never stopped. So I love it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:07] Well, you know, Cullen I went boxing a few times. I hang out with a lot of comedians and a lot of them box. So I went with a friend and, you know, they’re all, you know, sparring. And so the teacher was like, wait I don’t think you have a core. I was like, I don’t know, I haven’t play field hockey or lacrosse since high school. And so he basically was like, no, I need to have you do some drills because if not, you’re going to hurt yourself. Like there’s literally nothing holding your body together right now.

Cullen Jones [00:18:34] Oh yeah.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:34] He literally had me jumping. You know, you jump from the ground up to the boxing ring. So that’s kind of what is it like a two or three foot jump? And so I was like, okay. And he’s like, just do. That was like, Well, how long you like till I come back and get you? He was like, You know, we need to work on that. He was like, I don’t know what is holding you together, but it ain’t muscle. All right. Okay. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I’m with Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, and we’re playing the Blackest Questions. Okay, we’re back. I’m here with Cullen Jones. Cullen, you’re doing incredibly well. Are you ready for question number four in the Blackest Questions?

Cullen Jones [00:19:07] I’m. Try it. I’m try. Let’s go. Let’s do it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:11] And as I say, every episode, Cullen Black history is American history. And so we just want our listeners to know a little bit more beyond kind of what is, you know, the little sprinkling of Black history that we’re taught in school. I think it’s just so important for them to know who you are as a swimmer, you and your colleagues, but also all the great ways that we contribute to American and international society beyond what is often talked about. So question number four, this former civil rights activist was once a swimmer at Howard University. He went on to become a United States congressman and the mayor of Atlanta. Who is he?

Cullen Jones [00:19:49] And the mayor of Atlanta and a swimmer? Oh, man, you got me stumped here.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:01] Okay. It’s Andrew Young. So Andrew Young was.

Cullen Jones [00:20:07] That’s who I was thinking, too, but I wasn’t I didn’t know that he was the mayor of Atlanta. That’s what was throwning me off. Okay.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:12] And he’s part of the long lineage of Black mayors in Atlanta. But when he was a pastor, he met fellow clergyman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The two became fast friends and remained close until Dr. King’s assassination. Young eventually got into politics and was the first Black person to be appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations. In 1981, he was encouraged by his friend, Coretta Scott King, to run for mayor of Atlanta, which he did. He won 55% of the vote. Later, in 1996, he was the cochairman of the Summer Olympics Committee and is credited with helping to bring the games to Atlanta and shout out to Howard University’s men’s swimming team, who won the conference championship this year for the first time in 34 years. So and I know how a university has a long legacy of great swimmers. So have you had a chance to meet Andrew Young?

Cullen Jones [00:20:57] I did have an opportunity back in 2012. That’s why I’m so embarrassed that they didn’t know. That Atlanta piece is what threw me off. But yes, I had a I had an amazing opportunity to sit down with him and just what an amazing conversation. But just like I just I picked up so many nuggets from him. He just kept telling me stories about what he was there. He swims here, has swam, and that’s why I was the connection was there. But I’ve gotten to meet him. It was such a pleasure to sit down and to chat with him and to tell for him to say you’re history. I’m like, No, no, sir, you are history. I’m just trying to continue what you’ve paved. So it was definitely a blessing getting to meet him.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:42] Yeah. And so and when you’re thinking back on your Olympic run, you know, and you’re part of this historic relay team of all time and you’re on a team with three white men. What do you think it’ll take to really diversify the sport where it’s not just three white men and one Black man. It could look like the United Nations in the pool on one team together. What do you think we really need to do to continue to diversify the sport?

Cullen Jones [00:22:14] I think representation is everything. You know, when we got together for Team Black and everyone was kind of sitting around, you know, for me looking at just the generations, this was during COVID, so we were all on Zoom. So I was looking at boxes. But to be able to see all of the faces that were that were on that call was it was amazing. And to think about my son, I’m like, How do I get this sport to look like? What I’m seeing right here is my son, who’s been in the water since six months, is like, Daddy, we go swimming today. Daddy was also today. And so I don’t want him to feel what I felt many times when it came to the racial disparity, where especially when I got into higher levels of swimming. And I think a lot of it is again, representation. We are seeing it going in the right direction. I’ve got to tell you, you’ve got some amazing talents. And Natalie Hinds and Shaine Casas and Reece Whitley, there’s there’s a lot of very, very promising swimmers that are coming up that are that are just going to really make a name for themselves even in next year’s Paris Olympics. But definitely when it comes back to L.A. in 2028. So we’re trending in the right direction. We’ve seen it in tennis with Venus and Serena. We’ve seen it in golf with Tiger. I picked up my clubs, was not very good, but I watched him do it. So I tried to to see the representation is huge. But the other piece is education. We need to educate parents that not only again is swimming a great sport, but it is a life skill. And then really getting more and more swimmers or people of color to become swimmers and then look at swimming as something that could get them out of their circumstance. I grew up in the hood and for me, swimming was just an outlet. I would have never guessed that I could have traveled the world with swimming, that just wasn’t on my mind. But I never had someone to look to. So I’m hoping that young swimmers can look at people like Simone or me or, you know, Shaine Casas or Natalie Hinds and say, Oh, you know what? Not to take anything from other sports. We like football or basketball. We like track. But there are other routes, too, that you can travel the world and just be super successful. Hyper successful.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:27] Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. You ready for your last proper question?

Cullen Jones [00:24:34] I’m ready for my last proper question.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:36] Okay. This hip hop group from the Bronx, the first hip hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who are they?

Cullen Jones [00:24:46] From the Bronx.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:48] From the boogie down.

Cullen Jones [00:24:49] Boogie down. Oh, and the where’s KRS One from?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:00] Where is he from? My audience is going to be like Chrissy, you should know that.

Cullen Jones [00:25:07] I don’t know. Who is it?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:09] Okay. It’s Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. So the group was formed in 1978 in the South Bronx. South Bronx. And their song, The Message was selected by the Library of Congress to be one of the first 50 songs to be added to the National Recording Registry in its first year of archival.

Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five [00:25:27] Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:36] And the group is also credited as being the first to use the term MC, Master of Ceremony. So I know you were born in the boogie down but you moved to New Jersey, still very young. Do you remember any of your time in New York City?

Cullen Jones [00:25:49] Oh, all the time. So my family, when my mom and my dad, we moved to Jersey, all of the rest of my family were still in New York. So most of my weekends were in New York. We took the train in. And that’s why it’s it’s my favorite place is still home to me whenever I get off the plane and walk into through LaGuardia or whatever of whatever airport. I’m like, yes, I’m home. I can feel it every time I come over.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:13] You can feel it. Now, what’s your favorite thing to do in New York? Is it just to hang out with your family at home? Or do you actually, you know, do you swim in the Hudson like some people? Do you go to a particular pool? Like, you know, do you go to the beaches? I mean, there’s so many beautiful beaches

Cullen Jones [00:26:30] No, the first thing you do is get pizza. You got to get a slice.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:33] You got to get a slice.

Cullen Jones [00:26:34] You got to get a slice.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:35] What kind of slice do you get, though?

Cullen Jones [00:26:37] So normally I’d be.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:39] Listen, you’re on like some Jimmy Butler zero body fat kind of thing right now.

Cullen Jones [00:26:44] I’ll work it off. I’ll go swimming, but I’m gonna get that slice. So, I’ll do pepperoni, I’ll do cheese, and then people going to make fun of me for this. I like pepperoni and broccoli pizza. It is amazing. And this place called Carve is actually in a lot of times when I fly and I’m usually somewhere around Times Square, even though I’d rather not be, I usually go to this place called Carve, and I will get a pepperoni and broccoli pizza. And I am good.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:12] You see, I’m a if I’m doing pepperoni, I’m doing the pepperoni, green pepper or I’m doing like a sausage and mushroom.

Cullen Jones [00:27:19] Oh, I can definitely do that, too.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:21] Like, those are sort of my two and like, you know, there’s nothing like a good slice, you know? And I’m also, though I do prefer a thin crust as opposed to the sort of more Chicago. I went to high school in Illinois, and I prefer that to like a deep dish type.

Cullen Jones [00:27:35] Okay. Here we go. New York and Detroit, Chicago.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:39] Okay.

Cullen Jones [00:27:40] All righty, though. I know I’m going to get it in the message boards. I know, but that that’s the level. I’m sorry.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:45] Now, here’s here’s a question. Does Saint Louis Pizza rank anywhere for you?

Cullen Jones [00:27:49] Oh, I do like Saint Louis pizza, too.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:52] Yeah. I mean, those Saint Louis Pizza folks are serious about, like, EMOs and all the other stuff. But, like, I feel like they’ve got some solid pizza, I think. Have to really good. I really love New York.

Cullen Jones [00:28:01] New York’s going to win New York.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:02] Beat the No, it’s down you got. Now, here’s a question, though. Are you the type of person to swim in in the Hudson?

Cullen Jones [00:28:09] No, I’m with you, Dr. Greer. I look for a Black line in the bottom of the pool. Everyone’s like pool. And once you done this open water and like. And I will do it if it’s for charity, because it’s for charity. And it’s usually to help others, but not by choice. No, no, no. Okay. I respect the ocean. I love it. But I stick to my pool.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:31] Okay. So, Cullen, before I’m just I. I’m so thoroughly enjoying talking to you. I mean, what you’re doing is just so exciting. So before we get to the Black Lightning Round, I want to share a couple of statistics with our listeners. And you’ve mentioned them before, but I want to go back over them. So according to the CDC, Black Americans drown at a rate 50% higher than white Americans. And as you mentioned earlier, USA Swimming reports nearly 70% of Black children can’t swim. So to our parents who are listening to this podcast, to anyone else who’s listening, who’s interested, what are some tips or things you’d like them to know as their kids are swimming and getting ready to get into the water this summer?

Cullen Jones [00:29:07] Absolutely. So the first thing, there is no substitute for formal lessons. Go. I don’t care where you go. Go learn to swim. Have someone that is accredited that knows how to teach and will teach you swim lessons. When I nearly drowned in five, I went through five different teachers. So I understand. I completely sympathize with everyone that’s out there that says, you know, I’m scared. I’ve had bad experience. Being near water. We need to be safer around the water. So that is the first thing. The second thing is you never swim alone. Ever. Even as an Olympian, I never thought I’m alone. I always make sure that there’s a lifeguard there. There’s someone else there and always have a friend. It’s even more fun when you can have someone around you that that you know, to be around you. And the third thing is when we have people that are unfortunately in distress. I don’t care if it’s my mom. If she needs to catch get air. And I try to jump in to try to help her. Her first natural instinct is to push me under. So it is to throw something to someone and pull them to safety. Or if I’m holding on to something, reach to pull them to safety. But she never jump in. Without anything else to try to help someone else. You reach.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:26] Right. Wow. I mean, I think that that information is incredibly important because I think for so many of us, the natural inclination to say, I see someone I love in distress or I see a stranger in distress and we hear tragic story. You know, in New York, we always have a lifeguard shortage. And unfortunately, every summer we hear terrible stories about people running into the ocean to try and see someone and and things going south really quickly. Okay. So before I let you out of here, we’re going to play the Black Lightning Round. Now, this, Cullen, there’s no right or wrong answer. You just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind, Into your heart. You ready?

Cullen Jones [00:30:58] Yes.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:59] Who is your favorite all time athlete?

Cullen Jones [00:31:03] Michael Jordan.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:04] Would you rather swim in a pool or a nature?

Cullen Jones [00:31:07] Uh, in a pool.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:10] One of these shows has to go. Martin. Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Jamie Foxx Show.

Cullen Jones [00:31:15] Come on, now.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:17] I didn’t say it was going to easy, Cullen.

Cullen Jones [00:31:19] Uh, I’m sorry. Because I met him, and he is such a good guy. But sorry, Jamie. I can’t let go of Fresh Prince or Martin.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:30] Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Cullen Jones [00:31:33] Night owl.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:34] Okay. What’s your favorite race to swim? Or maybe your favorite stroke?

Cullen Jones [00:31:39] Uh, 50 freestyle is definitely my favorite.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:42]  I used to love the backstroke. I used to love the backstroke.

Cullen Jones [00:31:47] Oh, I love watching it. And I started off as a backstroker, but. And I love watching Butterfly.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:57] Butterfly gives me agita. I don’t enjoy watching Butterfly. It’s too much for me. It’s just water.

Cullen Jones [00:32:02] It’s the core.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:03] You know what? That’s my spirit is like girl too much work. Get out of there. Okay. What’s your favorite guilty pleasure when you’re not training? What kind of snack do you sneak in and you can’t get enough?

Cullen Jones [00:32:14] Ice cream for sure.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:15] Okay. What’s your flavor?

Cullen Jones [00:32:19] Uh, honestly, it doesn’t matter. I’m like, Oh, mint chocolate.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:22] One of those ice cream people.

Cullen Jones [00:32:23]  like swirl. I’ll do a swirl. I love chocolate and vanilla together.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:28] Okay. Now, see, I am. I’ve had the same favorite flavor since I was eight years old. Cookies and cream. I’m like a cookies and cream connoisseur.

Cullen Jones [00:32:36] Of course.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:37] Okay, last question. Do you actually eat Wheaties?

Cullen Jones [00:32:42] Do I actually eat Wheaties? But I used to. Yes, I used to actually eat Wheaties.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:48] Oh, Cullen Jones. I am so.

Cullen Jones [00:32:51] Is this why you’re asking? Hold on. Is this why you’re asking? Is that it?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:56] For our listeners to the podcast, when you show up on a Wheaties box, it’s I got to be curious as to whether or not you eat the Wheaties. Right. I mean, not everybody’s on a Wheaties box. I’m sitting here talking to an Olympic athlete. I want to thank you, Cullen Jones, for joining us and playing the Black It’s questions with you. I want to thank you all listeners, for tuning in to the Black box question. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong and Geoffrey Trudeau, and Regina Griffin is our director of podcasts. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast. So you never miss an episode. And you can find more from theGrio Black Podcast Network on theGrio app, the website and YouTube.

Maiysha Kai [00:33:39] We started this podcast to talk about not just what Black writers write about, but how.

Ayana Gray [00:33:45] Well, personally it’s on my bucket list to have one of my books banned. I know that’s probably bad, but I think.

Maiysha Kai [00:33:50] Oh, spicy.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault [00:33:52] They were yelling N-word, Go home. And I was looking around for the N-word because I knew it couldn’t be me because I was a queen.

Keith Boykin [00:33:59] I am telling people to quit this mentality of identifying ourselves by our word, to start to live our lives and to redefine the whole concept of how we work and where we work and why we work in the first place.

Misty Copeland [00:34:15] My biggest strength throughout, throughout my career has been having incredible mentors and specifically Black women.

Omar Epps [00:34:21] I’ve been writing poetry since I was like eight. I’ve been reading Langston Hughes and James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and so forth and so on, since I was like a little kid.

Rhiannon Giddens [00:34:30] Like the banjo was like Black, right? For many, many, many years everybody knew.

Sam Jay [00:34:36] Because sometimes I’m just doing some Sam sh- that because I just want to do it.

J-Ivy [00:34:43] I’m honored to be here. Thank you for doing the work that you doing. Keep shining bright and like you said, we going to keep Writing Black.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:50] As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.