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Kiwana Denson is trailblazer for developing rip current awareness

Je'Sani Smith Foundation is more than just a non-profit organization
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Posted at 6:31 AM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-22 14:21:02-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Je’Sani Smith foundation’s purpose is to save lives by providing education and awareness on rip currents and how people can be safe at the beach.

"I never envisioned him drowning," said Kiwana Jenson, founder of Je'Sani Smith Foundation.

Je'Sani Smith was a popular high school athlete who loved nature and especially the beach.

On April 11, 2019, just a few days after his 18th birthday, Smith was swept away by a rip current at whitecap beach in Corpus Christi.

Smith's mom, Kiwana Denson, created the Je'Sani Smith foundation in March 2020 to help save lives and educate people about rip currents and beach safety.

From January 2015 to September 2021, Nueces County has reported 14 deaths due to rip currents. Only fatal incidents that are reported to National Weather Service in Corpus Christi are included in the storm data.

"I know what it's like to lose a child, who had their whole life ahead of them and all of that can be taken away in moments, you know I will never get that back," Denson said. "And so, I don't want anyone else to experience that. I feel like it's an obligation. Just because the loss of life in that manner, unexpectedly it's very traumatic."

And her efforts didn't stop there.

In 2020 Denson created The Beach Safety Task Force along with Nueces County Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney.

“And that is what she has focused her tragic loss and turned that into something positive," said Chesney.

She also been working with National Weather Service in Corpus Christi.

"Going out and engaging with people on area beaches to talk with them about, do they even recognize what's going on at the beach can they even recognize rip currents," said Melissa Huffman, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi.

"No one has really ever taken the initiative to do that in Corpus. I have never seen that," said Daniella Cole, the recipient of the 2021 Je'Sani Smith scholarship. "I have been stuck in a rip currents. My friends have been stuck, like they won't even step foot in the ocean."

The Je'Sani Smith water scholarship was another way to educate people about rip currents.

"It's amazing to see what she is doing like educating people," Cole said. "She's gotten my whole family involved in the organization ... they love to go volunteer."

"Whether or not they won, it didn't matter, because now everybody can make safe decisions when they take their families to the beach," said Denson.

But her biggest effort yet is supporting the beach safety legislation authored by Representative Todd Hunter.

The Je' Sani Smith Act or House Bill 3807 requires additional signage and lifeguards to improve beach safety. And another bill helps Texas beach visitors better understand the dangers of rip currents.

"He can't live his life, so I have to do it for him and that's just coming from a mother," said Denson. "I lead with my heart. It always should be about impacting other people or doing something for the greater good."

What does Coastal Bend Black Excellence mean to Denson?

"Is doing something that not only affects people who look like you, but also affects people who don't look like you," she said. "That's the legacy that my family and I have created. We will continue to do that because it's my story and my son's story."

To volunteer or learn more about beach safety, visit the Je'Sani Smith website.