Words and photos by Brad Williams
When I was first briefed on the STOKED/NeON summer skate program in Brownsville, Brooklyn, I had no idea what to expect from it. I only knew that it sounded like something I definitely wanted to be a part of. Skateboarding isn’t something that comes to mind when one thinks of Brownsville. The neighborhood is too often characterized by the reports of violence and gang/drug-related crimes that frequent local headlines. That’s not the Brownsville I know, but even when I lived there in 2012, it was rare to meet a fellow skater from the neighborhood. Sure, someone was always making use of one of the many spots in the area, but they were mostly from elsewhere, and just made a trip out to skate spots they’d seen in videos. Now, just four years later, Brownsville’s skate scene has grown immensely. With plenty of youths trying to get the most out of their neighborhood on a deck, two trucks, and four wheels.
On the first day of our program, I was genuinely surprised to see the majority of kids we spoke with on recruitment day actually showed up! None of them owned a skateboard, yet some already knew how to ride. A few couldn’t even set foot on a board. Still, with brief instructions and a little encouragement, everyone was pushing and stopping comfortably by the end of day one. By day two, it was clear that the group was having more fun than anyone expected.
The next week we encountered a group of teenage skaters rolling around Betsy Head Park. They were quick to skate over and greet James and I with plenty of questions. After we explained what the program was about, they were eager to join us. Even with the wide range of skill levels, everyone in our group has made notable progress over the past few weeks. Not only are the older participants learning tricks like heelflips and bigspins, but they’re gaining confidence in their abilities on and off the board.
With a multitude of personal backgrounds, everyone stands to gain something unique from this program. Some participants used to skate, but gave it up at some point and got in legal trouble along the way. Others started before the program, and others are just discovering their new abilities this summer! Regardless of background, I know they’ll leave our program with new friends and valuable skills. Despite the area’s reputation, this group contains are some of the most genuine and motivated people I’ve worked with in my five years of teaching skateboarding. I hope to read headlines about pro skaters from Brownsville in the near future.
For more information on STOKED programs click here.