Clifton Hicks discovered his favorite pastime at work. But the beginning of the Black Dolphin Dive Club was on an island vacation.
As a training instructor at Phillip Morris, Hicks teaches safe practices of industrial equipment. One afternoon while chatting with students, he learned that the company would sponsor athletic activities, including scuba diving. Hicks dove right in. Three years later, while enjoying a dive expedition in Bonaire, near Aruba, a fellow tourist overheard him mention Richmond. It was another resident, Simeon Newbold, who suggested that once home, they begin a club for African American dive enthusiasts. Newbold, an avid jazz fan, quickly came up with a name for the club, after one of his favorite songs, “On Green Dolphin Street.” Black Dolphin Divers (BDD) was born.
While Newbold would eventually direct his energy elsewhere, Hicks continues to build BDD. Last year, they were awarded “Club of the Year” by the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS), no small feat for an organization this young. Based out of Washington D.C., NABS has about sixteen affiliated clubs.
Their success is partly due to Hicks’ enthusiasm and tireless effort on behalf of the club. He works as hard to get word out about BDD as he does to create opportunities for the urban community to enjoy the sport. He admits, “Most African Americans aren’t aware of how many black divers there are out there.”
That’s one reason that education is paramount to BDD. “Education is part of our mission statement,” he emphasizes. Hicks, who grew up in Church Hill and lives Northside knows, “When you’re twelve years old, you don’t really hear about scuba diving.” There are five levels of certification for scuba and costs can be expensive. BDD currently helps develop sponsorships with the Youth Sports and Fine Arts Academy of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Last year they sent youths to a dive summit in Curacao.
Hicks has reached the fourth level of certification, that of Dive Master. Still, his family has concerns for his safety. “My mother is worried stiff,” Hicks admits. “But when you have faith that things are going to be alright, that’s what happens.” He’s well-schooled in dive safety, and trains his club thoroughly. “You have to make sure your equipment is maintained and checked. You have to have swimming skills. You always dive with a buddy who is just as good or even better.” This summer the club travelled to Lake Rawlings, an hour outside Richmond. While fun was on the agenda, training was key. Club leaders submerged a small aircraft in the lake, and members participated in underwater exploration and training.
Club goals include increasing awareness of diving in the urban community, to aid members in developing diving and snorkeling skills, and to organize trips. Of the many places he’s been to dive, Hicks remembers one trip above others. “Traveling to Fiji – the people, the culture, the life was just so heartwarming, that when it was time to leave, I cried. The warmth of spirit. We take so much for granted here. They’re not primitive, but they live off the land. It’s a tourist place, but it’s not commercialized. A hole dug here, a fire there. It’s the only place I’ve ever been that I cried to leave.” He knows he’ll be back, and emphasizes, “Everyplace we go, we try to make an impact as far as keeping in touch, leaving something there. It’s about establishing relationships.”
He’s working on building relationships at home as well: “This year I want to get diving on the campus of Virginia State University.” Meeting such goals takes work. “It’s been challenging, but it’s been rewarding,” Hicks says. “This is my passion. So anytime you have a passion for something and there are obstacles, you know how to go through them, around them, over them. We’re building, and I have the support of other clubs throughout the region.”
He enjoys the camaraderie among clubs and divers, saying, “I just got back from a meeting in Seattle. I was at Family and Friends Day in Philadelphia. Next week a couple of our members are going to the Grand Canyon hiking. I’m hoping we’ll have the national meeting here next year. The harvest is plentiful.”