Roller Skating burns serious calories: "A 30-minute glide through the neighborhood can burn 250 calories," says Personal Trainer Jim White, American College of Sports Medicine. When one thinks of roller skating it’s all wrapped up in summer warmth, fun neon colors, and the sounds of Earth, Wind, Fire. While the sport invokes so many feel good feelings, it’s also played a significant part in Black Culture. In fact, it’s been shaped and nurtured by black skaters. And no, skating isn’t just a nostalgic pastime; it’s still thriving today even amidst adversity.
Did you know that Nelly wrote his first album in the basement of a skate rink and that Queen Latifah’s first performance was also held in one? Hip Hop music flourished in rinks, because a lot of big venues wouldn’t let artists perform, saying Hip Hop music couldn’t be taken seriously. Dr. Dre’s first job was DJing at a skate rink.
Black history is so deeply intertwined with Black Skate Culture, and we think it’s time to bring it back to the forefront and keep this tradition going. I mean, sign me up for staying fit and having some good old soul-healing fun.
Even though I, a millennial, grew up in the rink, and am really proud of that, I had no clue why skating rinks were actually shutting down all over the country. I just thought it was a pastime of the well, the past. It turns out, Black Skate Culture is facing adversity not from the passing of time, but from hard hits of gentrification happening in the neighborhoods they’re built in.
Owners of the skating rinks might not be the same as the owners of the land. A lot of those landowners are allowing it to be rezoned for commercial use, think big box stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Walmart. They’re telling roller rink owners that if they don’t clean up their “clientele” they’re going to shut them down. We know what that means, it’s just more coded language. So, if fifteen years ago the last rink in your neighborhood was rezoned, it makes perfect sense where nostalgia kicked in; 14 year-olds today wouldn’t have had the chance to grow up in a skate rink. I can still remember being dropped off at the rink with my older sister. We’d grab pizza with our friends, ogle at the boys with hot faces, watching our crushes show off in the middle of the rink. Our parents often left us at the front door, it was a safe place: full of preteen hormones, archenemies, the best of friends, and the best of times.
Black Skate Culture fought an uphill battle from the start. Oftentimes, black people were discouraged from attending the skating rink everyday, but one. That one day was coded as “Soul Night” or “RnB Night.” Any other night of the week if a black person tried to skate they might have been told they didn’t have their shoe size or were tousled up by hired thugs says, Dyana Winkler, the co-director of the Black Skate Culture Documentary, “United Skates”
One of the first sit-in protests was the White City Roller Rink Demonstration, in 1949. A Roller Rink that was off limits to blacks, says Ross Grossman for the Chicago Tribune. Shortly after that sit-in, came the 1954 ruling of the Supreme Court in Brown vs. The Board of Education, that segregation of schools based on white and black was unconstitutional.
Roller rinks have played a part in the birth of Hip Hop music, confronting segregation, giving children a safe place to grow up in, even today we can look to Roller Rinks for community outreach. Rollercade, a Black-owned Detroit skate rink, is lucky enough to own the land it sits on; it can escape pressure from land-owners. “Motown stars including members of the Temptations were known to visit the rink, recalled Ronald Folks, who has been coming to RollerCade since it opened,” quotes a Detour Detroit Contributor.
Kyle Black, is the third generation owner of the rink. His grandparents actually bought the land back in 1954 and at their children's urging built a roller skating rink that continues to serve today. Black, holds an annual school supply drive where everything is free. Free skate rentals, backpacks, and on-site barbers. Can you imagine the gleeful laughter and thumping music commemorating the end of summer and the strength of a community, I can, and it makes me smile.
"I mean, sign me up for staying fit and having some good old soul-healing fun."
Let’s keep our traditions and our culture alive. Get outdoors this summer and teach yourself, your friends, and your children how to roller skate. Visit skate rinks when you travel. Buy those L.A. skates and bust a move with that Chicago Skate Style, like the daughter of Phelicia Wright, a roller skater from the documentary “United Skates.” Every state from Los Angeles, New York, to Atlanta has its own skate style, music, and look. How fun is that? I mean I wouldn’t be opposed to a 2021 road trip touring skate rinks. But until then, you can pick up a pair of outdoor roller skates and take a tour around your neighborhood, grab some girlfriends and “Lets bounce today,” like Vaughan Mason & Crew., told us to in their 1979 song "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll.”
Staying in shape just aligned with a whole lifestyle.
---BCRX Content Writer, Klarrisa Arafa