Pastor George A. McKinney and his wife had been throwing pool parties at their San Diego home without incident for over 10 years.
But, in the fall of 2009, the unthinkable happened.
Albert, one of the several children in attendance, was discovered lying unconscious at the bottom of the pool and later declared dead at a nearby hospital.
What was once an unknown statistic to Pastor McKinney became a glaring reality: drowning is the second-highest cause of accidental death among young children, with African-American children drowning at nearly three times the rate of whites.
"I wasn't aware of this until it happened to me," he told BET.com. "It was devastating."
The tragedy motivated the pastor to invent the Albert Jones Anti-Distress Device, a technological swim safety system to help curb the high drowning death toll among African-American children. Having received a patent this past February, Pastor McKinney and the predominantly African-American team at his company, Better Life Technology, are currently focusing on raising $250,000 to complete their prototype and produce a marketable product.
BET.com: How does AJADD work and how it will curb drownings among African-American children in particular?
Pastor George A. McKinney: AJADD works by detecting signals from the body — either vitality signs or certain motions of the body — and transmitting them in a coded signal. The coded signal that is sent by AJADD is received by a cellphone or laptop and carried to a second party, who is either a lifeguard or a caretaker. After the signal is received, it is then translated by software contained on the second parties' laptop or cell phone.
The information carried will be specific, such as location, vitality and any personal medical information that may be pertinent to rescue. African-American children will benefit from our device's ability to define and record subtle but unique differences that may come as a result of culture and/or physiology that may provide an early warning system for African-American children or any group.
Since conceiving the idea in 2009, what are some of the challenges you've faced while developing AJADD?
One of the challenges that we face is determining how to read vitality information using our system of light technology. Skin pigmentation can be a major issue because lighter hues are easier to read than darker skin tones. However, one of the medical doctors on our team has created a resolution to this problem. We are now filing a continuation patent that will cover our method of solving the problem. Another challenge we've faced is bringing the enormity and reality of this public challenge to the nation's attention.
You've taken the AJADD from a simple idea to a patent. How have you managed to stay the course throughout the development process?
One of the central and primary forces that has driven me in this quest to resolve this national problem is experiencing the devastation and helplessness that comes with the drowning of a 7-year-old child. The need and reason for the creation of AJADD was to solve the [drowning rates] that continue to plague our communities all over the nation.
I have had a great mentor in Willie Morrow, who mentored me when I was a teenager and introduced me to the world of business and intellectual property. The inventor of the California Curl, Willie is a long-time resident of San Diego and also a member of my church. I have also relied on the goodwill of family and church members for support. I also have a supportive wife and an amazing team comprised of medical doctors, engineers, scientists and business professionals.
What are the next steps for AJADD and Better Life Technology?
Our next steps will involve identifying investors to complete our prototype. Once developed, we will focus on manufacturing, marketing and distribution. We also have a medical wristband that is in development that will be used by hospitals for their patients. We have already begun conversations with some major hospitals.
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(Photo: Courtesy George McKinney, Better Life Technologies Group)