Black Girls Skate: A community that wants more for skateboarding
© Shan Wallace
BGS gives a platform to Black skateboarders and those who otherwise would struggle to see themselves represented.
When it comes to inclusion, there’s no denying that the skateboarding community has come a long way, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do. In mainstream skateboarding, a limited amount of female and non-binary skaters come to mind, but even less are Black and brown. You could argue that you just have to know where to look. The harder it is for Black girls to see themselves reflected, the harder it is to know that the sport is for them too. For many, representation is all it takes to pick up their first skateboard.
This lack of visibility sparked a passion in DJ Gooden and Nicole Humphrey to create Black Girls Skate and help push the momentum forward. DJ had been skateboarding as transportation for years before they decided to spend more time at the skatepark. After looking into buying a new board, they came across Samarria Brevard's deck with Enjoi and fell into a rabbit hole looking for other Black women skaters. They quickly realized it’s not easy to find more skaters that looked like her. This inspired the first steps to build the community that they felt was missing.
Black Girls Skate is a non-profit that celebrates the diversity within skateboarding and amplifies the message that the sport doesn't look one way. The online community started to pick up on social media, so DJ partnered with Creative Strategist, Nicole, to continue to grow Black Girls Skate to what it is today. What started out as a resource for content creation in just over a year has stemmed into 17 ambassadors in the U.S, U.K and France. DJ and Nicole refused to wait for the industry to make room for skaters who identify as women, non-binary and Black, African, or people of color, so they're carving out that space themselves. These two are looking to broaden the skate community we all love and appreciate, flaws and all, so that the underrepresented recognize that they're also welcome.
Red Bull: How did Black Girl Skate become what it is today?
DJ: It started out as a passion project for me. I was living in California for a bit and I was skating around out there and I was really in love with the community out there. I didn’t really see anyone who looked like me skating around, but the community out there was definitely inclusive and I felt at home at the skateparks. I was noticing that they didn’t have the same setup that I had, so I went online to see what was out there and what I should be purchasing for riding at the skatepark. I came across Enjoi brand and their boards, and they had a board by Sammaria Bravard and she’s a Black professional skater. I fell down a rabbit hole with her and Stephanie Person. Where’s the equity? Why don’t I see more Black women and women of color on these ads or in the commercials or with the shoes? I wanted to create a place where we could come together and kind of celebrate ourselves and raise awareness and let people know that Black girls are out there doing this and more. That’s kind of where it started and from there it kind of got a lot of love and feedback. Earlier this year everything began to pick up, so I asked Nicole if she can come and join the team to help me out. And it really took off from there and it’s just kind of steam rolled.
Your first several posts are really inspiring. How have you seen that visibility make a difference in young girls?
Nicole: In New York, you see folks that are saying "I just saw this on social media and now I’m here and I met so many people that I didn’t even know." That has been how we’ve been able to see it work. You discovered us, you were on a journey, whether you started skating two weeks ago or whatever and now you’re meeting folks, discovering folks and you’re engaging in the comments so folks are meeting each other.
Maybe the discovery of the account, and going back to that rabbit hole idea of how folks find us. Of course in the earlier days, we'd look at who was out there and who we can repost, but we're beginning to diversify that. It could literally be a skater that’s been skating for 2 weeks, but also an ice skater, a roller skater, an inline skater, a skateboarder, a longboarder. All these different entry points that people can witness and throw their appreciation in the comments.
What made you pick up your first skateboard? When did it just click?
DJ: Have you seen that show “Rocket Power”? I bugged my mom for a skateboard one Christmas and she actually got it for me. At one point we were living in a house and our landlord came over to fix some issue, and he was like "let me show you how to ride that thing," and he was an old cool Black man, and he just rode it down the driveway like it was nothing. And at that point I was like I gotta be as cool as him. Especially at that age. I think I was around 8 years old and I’ve been skating for transportation to get to school or work for like over 20 years. Then I just started at the skatepark just over a year ago.
What’s your advice for non-binary, Black girls and girls of color at any age who have been wanting to try skateboarding?
DJ: For me, I’m gonna tell them it’s all about you. Skateboarding is very personal, there’s no rush. There’s no need to compare yourself to anyone, it’s all at your own pace. It’s all about you, your attitude, and your positive mental attitude. If you’re skating at home or at the skatepark, it doesn’t matter. It does matter how you feel and what you think about yourself. Take some time to understand that it’s mostly mental and talk confidently to yourself. Spend the time that you need to prepare to go to the skatepark or skate in your neighborhood.
BGS events are going to leave a lasting impact on getting girls more comfortable at the skatepark, which can be an intimidating place. What’s been your personal experience and journey with going to the skatepark?
DJ: Mostly positive. I always tell girls there’s a way to cheat. You get there early in the morning when no one else is skating or you go when everyone else is at work. That way you get the whole park to yourself and that’s how you build your confidence. As well as that positive mental attitude. As far as it being intimidating, I’m not gonna say that it’s all mental because some people can be extra, and they are there to intimidate you and make you feel like you’re in their way and that’s not okay, that’s never okay. The skatepark is supposed to be a community family oriented environment. Like another skater said on our skaters speak, if you’re skating in that type of environment, it’s probably better to just find another space to skate. Or take people with you in a group. There’s safety in numbers and others can help you out and tell you something you didn’t know and vice versa so you end up learning a lot faster when you skate with a partner or skate in groups.
How did creating your ambassador team come to be? And how would you describe their role in the movement?
Nicole: The idea was how can we keep up the eyes and ears on what is actually happening. A lot of the scouting for content was on DJ having to see what we should post because we wanted to make sure we were posting 2-3 times a day. We wanted to be able to not only grow digitally, but also locally. It was literally a call out on our social media where folks could submit. We knew we wanted to select 15 people and I think maybe the first couple of days we were overwhelmed. Overall we got over 50 submissions and that was when we said, wow people want to support. And full transparency, it has been a learning for us around how we activate, inspire, and encourage folks to really do the things that they already are doing, but in the vein of BGS.
We are in the process of redefining our full ambassador role going into 2021. But now the whole goal is to set ourselves up to encourage them to activate in their cities and in their spaces.
As of right now, their roles are to amplify BGS mission in the cities that they live in and also look to activate around heightening the visibility, heightening safety practices and building equity.
Skaters speak is a great opportunity to create more dialogue within the community, how important was it to create that type of engagement?
Nicole: We thought we should start putting people on and letting them talk and be a part of our content. And it has been amazing to say the least, but really allowing our ambassadors to step in and host, you see these really authentic conversations.
It's been cool now because folks are actually live with someone and engaging in the comments. We had a live with Yaz, who was a special guest. Yaz just started giving advice and talking to everyone. We’re able to just show the diversity, how there are so many nuances to being Black, being of color, and skating is just one entry point.
Let’s talk about taking that conversation on the road with this tour! What was the process like planning and seeing it all come together?
DJ: Back in March it was our one year anniversary and I wanted to do a meetup, but COVID hit us pretty hard, so we kind of had to pause it all and cancelled the meetup. But we wanted to figure out what ways we can serve our community. We spent that time just planning and thinking about what we can do to serve the community, so we came up with the tour and this care box initiative.
Nicole: Specific to the care boxes, those were birthed out of not being able to physically be amongst people. We thought we should give these little packs or these boxes that have gear and equipment in them that will actually inspire people to skate. What else could make a person feel good? What else could be included in these boxes? Then it was this box idea is great, but we can’t mail all of them. We saw the world kind of open back up, certain activities were permitted locally so we were like okay maybe we can do something. Then it was like let’s take this meetup idea that we wanted to do in March, but couldn’t and let’s pair that with giving out these care boxes. But we thought how can we do that COVID consciously and in a safe way. Then we realized, well we know Atlanta because that’s where DJ is and we know Chicago because that’s where I am and we built the dates from there.
We were already organizing how we wanna be impactful, and we’re getting the visibility down because social media is going great. People are engaging, but how can we get the safety aspect? Well, we have to actually put those materials in front of people whether it’s the face masks, the helmets, the pads, and then it's that equity piece.
What's happening at your tour stops?
Nicole: There’s skate workshops, sessions, all of that. And this was our first time doing it, so our goal was around how we can pop up, give some stuff away and have a cool skate session and provide PPE to everyone who is there. It’s so beautiful and amazing that anytime you put people together who love something, all of that is gonna start to happen. We have workshop lessons going on in the corner, we got competitions going on over here. The learning, the discovery, the networking, the meeting - all of that just happened organically.
What’s been the biggest takeaway from the tour?
DJ: It’s been amazing, I did not expect to learn so much. That was my biggest takeaway. I learned so much about people, about skating, about the different cities that we visited. For me, it was the learning and the networking, seeing people actually exchange phone numbers and actually say they would continue to skate together.
Who are some people you’ve partnered with that helped make the tour possible?
Nicole: Red Bull for sure, coming through. I would say the ambassadors we used in those cities told us what skatepark to go to, what community space to partner with. Then there are folks that donated and gave monetarily. Thrasher came super clutch on ensuring that we had the celebratory Black issue that they did, we learned that was super in demand and sold out. That was amazing to have in every care box. They also had facemasks. We got product from Spitfire. Beaver buttons for all the buttons, and I would say our friends and our homies too because they were the ones in the cities making sure we enjoyed ourselves and had accommodations.
Rowboat also provided us with T-shirts. In Atlanta it was Skate Plug Skateshop, in Philly it was Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse. So these places actually allowed us to disseminate from their space. In NY it was KCDC Skateshop. In Chicago we partnered with a collective called Doctors Unmasked, who help the Black and brown community become more aware of COVID safety precautions, they even talked about helmet safety.
Can you talk about some goals and things you hope to achieve from the fundraiser?
Nicole: We want to do another round of the tour. What we have been thinking about is how to do it more regionally, that would mean an east coast series of pop ups then a mid-west series of pop ups.
So many people that show love, whether they’re in Jamaica or they’re in Barbados, so many parts of the world - we want to send them care boxes. That is something that is important to us to ensure that we connect with these other folks that have been connecting in the digital space, so how do we show our token of appreciation.
We are trying to figure out team structure because we were maxed. We both do this, but we both have full time jobs and other things that we do. DJ actually took vacation to do this tour so we want to set ourselves up for success, but we want to ensure that we’re able to compensate additional folks. We’ve thought about what the budget of a team looks like, and we definitely need an assistant. Right now we’re managing social media, but as we begin to build out, we’ll need a social media manager. We’ll need other roles and positions and we want those to be with talented Black and brown people. We’re thinking about what does that salary look like or what does that pay by the hour look like and how do we set ourselves up for success to ensure that we can create positions for years to come.
What does a skate community with more equity and visibility look like to you both?
DJ: Just a more diverse skating experience when you go to the skatepark, in your neighborhood, in the town or on campus. Seeing more women of color, non-binary people of color, getting into the sport sooner and getting back into it sooner. Also, seeing more people associate skateboarding with more than one type of person.
Nicole: In terms of visibility, it’s more brands activating intentionally all year round. It’s great that Thrasher chose to do one big magazine and put all Black people in it, but I want there to be a space on the website where there’s continuous media effort. Or where the parks are actually built in cities in terms of accessibility to the space to build yourself because there is that idea that you have to travel this far to get to the skate shop or the skatepark. I think people will think something is not for them if they don’t have access to it.
What do you think more CIS gender men can do to make the skate community more inclusive and welcoming to woman and non binary skaters?
DJ: Encourage them. Offer them feedback if they’re open to it. Allow them to ask questions and just amplify them.
Nicole: To echo what was said in our Skaters Speak by a male skater - check your friends, check the environment. I think that’s one of the things, it's like even having these conversations now during the BLM movement. I think it's creating an environment where you are growing with the other skaters around you who don't look like you, whether they are not the same age, or male-identifying or not white. Understanding your privilege and feeling like they're right there with you, that’s harder.
How can people support you or get involved?
Nicole: Follow us everywhere, being in tune with what we’re doing next and then donating. We want to be able to pop up and do more tours and we want to empower any idea that our ambassadors have. Being able to see ourselves activating in a way whether it's tutorials or workshops. Follow us and give where you can. We’re growing and there's so much that we wanna do. We’re coming to a city near you for real, we’re so excited.