Earlier this year, plans for a long-awaited skatepark in West Baltimore were halted, and the City cited in response, that money and resources would be better spent upgrading existing facilities. Axed plans are not new to West Baltimore residents. The local government has scrapped many projects that would help improve the culture of Baltimore communities, as well as curb crime. Because of this, residents and the skateboarding community are calling for change.
Skateboarding has always been a way to build community. Historically, the community has been front and center, pioneering positive change and equity. In the 1960s, skaters created jams and attended protests to advocate for equality and protest the segregated rinks and spots. Nowadays, skaters are taking to the streets to protest against racism, police brutality and gender inequality. With the recent shutdown of the West Baltimore skatepark, more and more skaters are joining the fight.
Most skateparks in Maryland are in predominately white and affluent communities. The West Baltimore skatepark would have been the first to bring youth and young adults off the streets and into a skatepark.
Sarah Costner, a junior majoring in Information Systems, shared her thoughts on the issue. “I grew up in Sandtown, where there is a lot of crime and decay. We did not have much to do, so they looked for outside recreation. Most of that included crime. Investing in a skatepark where kids can come and learn how to skate or ride would help. It would give them something positive to look forward to.”
Studies have shown that skateboarding does, in fact, have a positive impact on youth and young adults. In 2020, a study from The University of Southern California found that skateboarding drastically decreased stress in youth and young adults. Particularly in Black and female youth, youth felt heard and safe and had a sense of community.
Wayne Davies, UMBC music graduate of 2019, agreed: “I picked up a board, and the rest was history. I grew up in California, so I had the opportunity to go to skateparks that were just around the corner. In Maryland, there’s Charm City which is a great place to skate but unfortunately, most of the guys have to travel two or three busses to get there. Doc [Civil Rights Leader and advocate, Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham] truly stepped up to try to make a West Baltimore get a spot. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t pan through. Looking back, I can say without a doubt that if I did not have the opportunity to skate and get into BMX, I would probably be locked up.”
The stigma of skating and action sports never seemed to fade. If anything, they seem to increase year after year. The pushback from local officials and outside communities is not surprising. Nonprofit B-360 has also seen that pushback.
B-360 is a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that merges engineering with dirt-bike riding. It builds a safe community for youth and young adults to explore the sport while learning science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Since its founding, B-360 has helped decrease dirt-bike arrests by 80%, improved student test scores by 45% and increased community relationships. This proves that giving opportunities to our youth and young adults in these communities will drastically improve their quality of life. B-360 has taken something often stigmatized and viewed as deviant and turned it into something overwhelmingly positive and rewarding.
Local government should take note and help fund state parks and bring these resources to communities in Baltimore. Giving youth and young adults a positive outlet will effectively decrease crime, increase a sense of belonging, and lead to positive outcomes.
Bolden James, a Mechanical Engineering 2012 graduate, wants the city to fight for skaters. “I remember when the X Games came to Baltimore. There were so many young guys there. Their faces just lit up. They had something to latch on to. We do not get to see that now, and we desperately need that. We have enough money to build a skate park. Travis Pastrana advocated building a dirt park decades ago, but that did not happen. Doc was advocating for a skatepark, and it was shut down. How many times do we have to get shut down before something is done?”
That question still lingers. For many, this fight has been a decades-old one. Unfortunately, the ones who lose are our youth and young adults. Skateboarding has always been about self-expression and community.
Darnelle Yates, a local skater, promised to keep moving forward. “This ain’t about just skating; it’s about rights. It’s about civil rights. We need somewhere to go without having to worry about drugs and violence. Skating releases that stress and tension. It gives a lot of us purpose and opens new doors. I have a friend who got sponsored. He grew up in Cherry Hill with barely any prospects, and the dude just got sponsored and started touring before covid. This is what I’m talking about. Skating brings opportunities to people who won’t otherwise have them.”
As Yates stated, this is not solely a recreational issue. Funding skateparks in Baltimore is about giving positive resources to a community surrounded by violence, crime, and stigma. Baltimore needs to invest in the future of our youth and young adults. Communities need an outlet and a way to build.
Skateboard Graphic By Lucas Bato.
Shanika Freeman is a senior INDS major and Opinions Editor. Contact Shanika at firstname.lastname@example.org.