>> announcer: this is "nightline." tonight, stunning discovery. the california teen who vanished without a trace. now the volunteer group adventures with purpose tracking down kiely rodni's car with human remains inside. >> all hope for her coming home was gone. >> how they achieved what law enforcement did not. plus, swimming while black. the life-saving skill with a disturbing disparity. >> is swimming a civil rights issue? >> i think so. >> why black children in america are drowning at an alarming rate. a reality rooted in racism. we go inside the country's oldest private black swim club. and the trailblazing olympian helping to shatter the stigma. >> black people swim.
it's a u.s. problem that we believe that this is something we don't do. and cinderella the reunion. ♪ things are happening every day ♪ 25 years after the groundbreaking television event reshaped who could be a princess -- >> it changed the way black little girls believed in themselves. >> the all-star cast reunites and reflects. >> there are no hard and fast rules for fairy tales. except one. believe in magic. >> announcer: "nightline" will be right back. >> announcer: "ni be right back.
good evening. thank you for joining us. we begin tonight with the tragic update in the search for a california teenager who disappeared after a party a few weeks ago. a well-known volunteer group joined the search and made a surprising discovery. it's left her family heartbroken and it's raising even more questions. here's abc's chief national correspondent, matt gutman. >> reporter: kiely rodni seemed to have vanished without a trace. the 16-year-old was last seen on august 6th at the prosser family campground near truckee, a community north of lake tahoe. there she attended a party with several hundred other teens, many of whom were drinking. her mother said she got a text from kiely saying she was heading home. an hour later at 12:30 a.m. her
cell phone pinged for the last time near this lake. she never came home. the case was initially treated as a possible abduction. >> we have stories about the beginning of the night and the middle of the night, but we don't really have -- there are no stories about her leaving, when she left or who she left with. >> reporter: authorities launched a massive search. but no one could find her. then a team from a volunteer group called adventures with purpose joined the search, and just two days later they detected an object with cutting-edge sonar technology in nearby prosser lake. it was a vehicle submerged in 14 feet of water 55 feet offshore. >> you know, it's very tragic. at that point we were -- all hope for her coming home was gone. >> reporter: today authorities confirming it was rodni's vehicle, with human remains inside, explaining that early searches had missed it but not for lack of effort. >> the lake was extensively searched with site sonar, with an r.o.v.
we had divers. we had swimmers. >> reporter: kiely rodni has still not formally been identified. the official autopsy is tomorrow. tonight rodni's family issuing a statement saying "kiely will surely remain with us even though we will not get her back." >> a family's heartbreak. our thanks to matt. now to a rite of summer. splashing into the pool to cool off with a swim. but for some children that dip in the water can prove deadly. it's what the cdc is calling a serious health problem. black children drowning at troubling rates. tonight we examine the roles of america's racist past and those trying to pave a new way forward. we welcome abc's ike ejiochi. >> it's a big day for the leggett family. >> today's the last day. are you guys excited? >> yes. >> reporter: after just four
weeks of lessons james and cairo are about to be official swimmers. >> cairo, you got your goggles in there? >> reporter: at a very special swim club. >> belts on, boys. >> we are going to the nile swim club. we should be there in about two minutes. >> they managed to teach us how to swim from scratch. >> reporter: right here in the borough of yeadon just outside philadelphia sits a piece of american history. >> stop holding your breath. come on, stop holding your breath. >> reporter: the nile swim club. the oldest black-owned private pool in the country. is on a mission to save lives. >> ready? put your head on my shoulder. >> reporter: with drowning still one of the leading causes of death among children, young black girls and boys are facing even grimmer statistics.
african americans drown at a rate 50% higher than that of white people and nearly 64% of black children have little or no swimming ability. for white children the number is 40%. the cdc classifying drownings as a serious public health problem. but these numbers aren't just a coincidence. they stem from a legacy of racism and inequality where black americans were systematically kept out of pools and beaches, passing down a crippling fear of water in families for generations. is swimming a civil rights issue, an issue of equality? >> i think so. i think it's lack of access. i think our lifeguards do a phenomenal job. >> reporter: anthony patterson is the current president of the club, but he says these swim classes are vital. it's all part of the club's no child will drown in our town campaign. >> it's up to us because it appears that counting on other folks to teach our children how
to swim is not happening in our community. >> reporter: the free program has taught this fundamental skill to hundreds of children since it first started in 2018. why do you think it's so important to know how to swim? >> say, somebody slips in and they need help. you could come and get them, right? if you know how to swim. that's important. >> reporter: 8-year-old cairo is now one of the nile's many success stories. >> cairo just had a big fear of water, period. he don't even want to like wash her face, like get her face wet in the shower. >> reporter: really? >> she don't want the water coming down on her. >> reporter: but today? cairo, james and their classmates graduated. their final test, jumping off a diving board into the deep end. >> whoo-hoo! >> reporter: now, when you say private swim club, what do you think comes to mind in most people? >> in those cases i think they're looking for exclusion. >> reporter: the nile swim club was created in 1958 after two
black families were denied membership into the racially segregated yeadon swim club. >> as a matter of fact, when they went to submit their applications they forgot to write some information down. they went back up to the pool and they found their applications in the trash. >> reporter: in the trash? >> in the trash. our founders decided instead of fighting and protesting and forcing them to have us join their club they decided you know what? we'll go back to our community, raise the money we need, and pretty much purchase this 4 1/2 acres of land and put the nile swim club here. >> reporter: the swimming deficit in the black community is uniquely american and can be traced back to when enslaved africans were forbidden to swim. access to beaches and pools played a key role in the struggle for civil rights, leading to an often forgotten seminal moment on june 18th, 1964. on that day a group of black and white protesters staged a wade-in, jumping into the whites only pool at the monson motor lodge in st. augustine, florida. in response james brock, the
owner of the hotel, doused the protesters with acid. similar acts of civil disobedience emerged across the country, eventually leading to integration at public pools. but white swimmers then began to abandon them and funding dried up. closures ensued, paving the way for exclusive private clubs where allegations of segregation persist. in 2012 the justice department found that the historically white and now defunct valley club, 20 miles north of yeadon, discriminated against black children during a camp pool trip in 2009. >> this shouldn't be tolerated. people are still thinking like this. and that like they're still criticizing people just because of the color of their skin. >> reporter: so you're saying even today people are still denying blacks -- >> absolutely. >> -- entrance into private swimming clubs. >> absolutely. >> reporter: fortunately -- >> listen up. >> reporter: the nile swim club -- >> 75 fly. 75 back with fins on.
>> reporter: isn't the only program trying to fix the narrative. >> we teach them how to swim and the gym teaches them how to swim fast. >> i have a need for speed. >> reporter: meet jim ellis. you'll usually find the 74-year-old just a few miles away from the nile swim club, still coaching some of the world's best up-and-coming swimmers. >> what does it mean to be on our team? pride, determination and resilience. that's the name of the game. >> reporter: all his life ellis says he's heard the misconceptions about african americans and swimming. >> african americans can't swim. their bones are too heavy. they're not built right. well, i'm african american. i've been swimming all my life. so this is a stereotype. >> reporter: growing up, ellis was fortunate to have access to pools. and when he didn't, he found a way. >> i went to pools that my parents couldn't swim in when they were younger, and once i got to be a teenager i swam in those pools every day in the summertime just to make up for what they couldn't do.
>> reporter: in 1971 ellis would go on to create the philadelphia department of recreation swim team, the first all-black swim team in the country. >> we had to deal with some issues. people not being receptive to us. how dare you sit there, that type of thing. >> swimmers, take your mark. >> reporter: in 2007 he received the hollywood treatment. his life and achievements profiled in the film "pride" starring terrence howard. >> this is our house. and it's built on pride, determination, and resilience. >> reporter: jim ellis's program has qualified swimmers for the u.s. olympic trials. and though no olympians have come from pdr yet, he's still cheering on the swimmers who've reached that elite level. >> cullen jones, watched him grow up. simone manuel, i watched her grow up. maritza correia. i'm very proud of them. >> we think of swim coach jim
ellis. do you think his contributions to the field opened up doors for people like you and others? >> i love that man. and i don't think i say it enough. >> u.s. has the slight lead in the third leg of this four-man event. >> reporter: it was at the 2008 olympics in beijing when cullen jones solidified his name in history, swimming on a legendary team comprised of jason lezak, garrett weber-gale and michael phelps. jones won gold in the 4x100 freestyle relay. and broke the world record. becoming the first african american to accomplish this feat. he says it was rare to see other swimmers who looked like him. >> you are really regarded as one of the best swimmers our community has to offer. why do you think there aren't more of you? >> it's not just access because access is a very easy way for a lot of people to be like oh, this is the reason black people don't swim. that is something that has been pushed out of our culture. but we are swimmers. team nigeria's great. there are swimmers in other countries. black people swim. it's a u.s. problem that we
believe this is something we don't do. >> reporter: during the course of his career jones was a world-class sprinter, winning four olympic medals, two gold and two silver, as well as several gold medals at major international swim competitions. did you ever think that swimming would take you around the world like it has? >> never. >> reporter: why not? >> i never thought that this was for me. i've been put in the same sentence, and i am humbled by this. arthur ashe. jackie robinson. tiger woods. venus and serena. but i think that that's the biggest reason. i think that we just never saw ourselves do this. >> reporter: a native of irvington, new jersey jones's first introduction to the water was a frightening one. at 5 years old he almost drowned at a water park. >> my mom heard her only child, her spoiled little brat, ah! nothing. so she shoots down the ride. she doesn't know how to swim. so she's drowning on the right. i'm drowning on the left. they had to fish me out.
i had to be resuscitated. but i never want to see any other parent have to go through that. >> reporter: a lot of kids usually, they go forward when they have a moment like that or they retreat back. what do you think was in you that made you say you know what, no, no, no, this isn't the last -- >> oh, it's not me. it's my stubborn mother. it's like yeah, no, this is not happening again. you're going to learn. >> reporter: now a water safety advocate, jones has partnered with team usa and their make a splash campaign, which helps make swimming lessons more accessible for kids. >> we don't like to use the word drowning prevention. anyone can drown. i can drown. michael phelps can drown. what we like to do is say we're becoming safer around the water. you don't die from not being able to play basketball. you wouldn't put your child in a car without a safety belt or play football without pads. but you send your child to a pool when it's hot without swim lessons. it's a life skill. >> reporter: a skill he's now passing on to his 3-year-old son aven. >> how is that going along? >> i can teach any child to
swim. this will be my greatest work. >> reporter: we went with the pair to see what an olympic swim lesson looks like. it seems like little aven is fearless, joining the new generation of young swimmers. >> we're seeing progress. and for any person that is interested, fearful, i won't tell you my mom's age, but she's learning to swim. so it's never too late. get out there and learn to swim. >> our thanks to ike. up next, a fairy tale reunion 25 years in the making. as the all-star cast of "cinderella" remembers the magic. ♪ things are happening every day ♪ moderate to severe eczema still disrupts my skin. despite treatment it disrupts my skin with itch. it disrupts my skin with rash.
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rodgers & hammerstein's classic musical "cinderella" was adapted for a major television event. it wasn't difficult to see what was difficult about the version of the fairy tale. now the all-star cast is reuniting to relive some of the magic. ♪ when you wish upon a star ♪ ♪ makes no difference who you are ♪ ♪ anything your heart desires will come to you ♪ >> cinderella, can you believe
it's been 25 years since we shot this thing? girl, 25 years and i'm still wearing this same dress. still got it. >> when i was a little girl, cinderella to me, what i saw was a little blond girl. you know, she'd be in a garden with butterflies and bluebirds. i mean, that was me. >> the image that i had in my head of cinderella was disney's original animated version. >> it was a girl in a blue big poofy blue dress with blond hair. >> never would i have thought she was a black girl with a raspy sultry tone to her voice with braids. >> so my dreams when i was a young girl was to be a singer, have my own band, and meet whitney houston. that was it. i had no idea that my destiny would take me to a role, cinderella, be the first woman
of color to play her, and then for whitney houston to be my fairy godmother? you've got to be kidding me. ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ impossible ♪ >> i remember like it was yesterday. and so this like magic is happening and i'm like oh, my god, she really sings like this. ♪ imposs ♪ is the note. >> why are you down there, girl? ♪ impossible ♪ ♪ >> the feeling of this whole
project is magical. >> once whitney and brandy became involved with it, it seemed like we had to change how we were going to present the musical. >> see the black woman. it's sassy and like okay, this is a black show now, honey. and there ain't no turning back! >> you want to know what her problem is? she can't handle how fabulous you are. >> people were inspired. it changed people's lives. it changed the way black little girls believed in themselves. i hear to this day, i believe i can be a princess now. that movie is the reason why it's possible. i know like it's timeless. ♪ it's possible ♪ >> and you can watch
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