When I was asked if I would write a post my first thought was, “I am not a skateboarder, I enjoy my feet being firmly cemented to solid ground”. But, as an observer from the sidelines it has provided me a unique view to the work going on through Academy Skateboard Collective, Central Alberta Skateboard Association, and the skateboarding community.
Taking my first sip of coffee at Dose on a Wednesday afternoon in March, sitting across a table, I began to realize how hard it was to pin Everett down. He is an extremely busy man juggling work life, home life, and the freshly minted non-profit. What became even more apparent was the passion and enthusiasm he has for all things youth. This was a guy you could follow, work alongside, support. And so, down the rabbit hole, I went…
Over the past few months, the team at Academy Skateboard Collective have been connecting with kids from all corners of the world – Syrian, Filipino, Iraqi, South Sudanese and everywhere in-between. Varying degrees of English, some reserved and shy, some open and honest, some carrying the toll of war, of low socioeconomic status, and living in two worlds – Welcome to the life and times of immigrant youth. Add to the mix varying abilities on a board, and you have a recipe for…???
It could be easy to view the noted list above as many reasons to not try, not reach out and even bother. This is where one cannot say enough about the team of amazing volunteers within the collective. Starting once every two weeks in April, on Saturday mornings, folks would descend upon the Glendale Skate Park in the North End of Red Deer (pause a moment to say that I was pretty impressed when I first saw the park). A committed group of kids would show up, and off they would go - on the board, off the boards, on the ground, to their feet, and press repeat. And so it would go for the next two hours. The enthusiasm for skating these kids have shown saw the collective response by moving to weekly Saturday morning sessions.
Never once were there issues with language, ability, equipment. The informal structure with which the sessions have been run have created an environment where anyone can join and try at any time. If you want to learn how to do something on a board; ask. If you want to experiment on your own; go for it. If you want to hang out and watch; have at it. From the sidelines, I have seen these kids interact with adults, support their peers, build trust, form relationships, teach, learn, listen, respect, mentor, and be mentored – from something as simple as providing a kid with an opportunity to try skateboarding.
For sure there have been bumps and bruises and learnings along the way, it hasn’t all been peaches and cream. We shouldn’t shy away from this. A school fight at one of the local high school’s here in Red Deer, which got widespread attention in late May originated at the skate park days earlier. New faces, new languages introduced to a space caused tensions that were expressed verbally and then physically. As unfortunate as this was, the response from the local skateboarding community was overwhelmingly positive.
A Family Skate Jam was organized for June 23rd by Central Alberta Skateboard Association. Intended to bring people together, to show there is a place within the skateboarding community for anyone no matter where you come from, it was intended to celebrate all things skateboarding, and in part, to respond to the amount of negativity towards immigrants that was being heard in pockets of the community.
The scenes over the course of this event were amazing – kids everywhere numbering around 300 at its peak, parents shoulder to shoulder lining the perimeter of the park. The absolute highlight, considering the line of work I find myself in – the community breaking fast at dusk (10:10 pm) with Syrian and Iraqi families who were observing Ramadan. Halal hot dogs, pickled beets, hummus – not your typical community BBQ menu. Then, with full bellies, back to skating to the tunes of Saudi Arabian pop music for another hour.
The willingness of all involved to consider Ramadan and Halal food offerings in their planning of the event, in order to be able to extend an invitation to participate and feel included in the event – that is leadership, that is community engagement, that is relationship building. The organizers should be commended for an overwhelmingly successful event.
The complexity of working with youth that live on the margins can be easy to miss. Superficially, the work of Academy Skateboard Collective looks like any other sport and recreation program. The difference I see, it is not prescribed, there is flexibility, it is informal. It’s not chaos, there’s no raised voices, no discipline. These kids aren’t fighting against rigid systems that don’t often cater to the marginalized. I see a group of kids who are positively responding, that is growing and learning about themselves and the community around them. Working with them in this space, hopefully, will see the same interactions and growth in more mainstream spaces throughout the community.
If this is the journey down the rabbit hole, I’ll jump down it anytime.
Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership Coordinator