Chicago SLS and the Overwhelming Light of Sincerity
Written by Adam Bevel
Sunday, a group of STOKED Chicago students attended the NIKE Street League Skating event, one of four tournaments this year that Nike puts on bringing together the best skaters from around the world to showcase their skills and compete against one another. For many of our students this was their first skating event, their first glimpse into a larger, world spanning culture.
In addition to being able to attend this event, STOKED partnered with HAVAS' photography department, most notably world renowned photographer Gareth Pon to provide our students a truly one of a kind experience. Gareth himself is partnered with Fuji and created a unique experience for the day: we were going to provide our students with cameras for the day, and with the guidance of a team of world class photographers, teach our students the ins and outs of action photography at the SLS event.
I was admittedly anxious for SLS. This was not only the first major event for STOKED Chicago, but the first event under my charge as a Program Manager. Multiple multinational corporations, organizations, and professionals had come together to provide this experience for our students and had fallen on my shoulders to coordinate, coupled with the most damning of pressures - the expectations of teenagers.
However, it went off without a hitch. The event was amazing, filled with the dramatic highs, lows, and triumphs one could want from such an outing, but you can watch all that on YouTube (and you should). What you can't see however, is what was experienced on our end, the little moments and interactions that kept my attention wrapped towards the bleachers and away from the arena.
Gareth and his team did a fantastic job with our kids, words don't do it justice. They were kind, patient, and passionate, and that passion radiated to our students as most of them got their first chance at photography on this level. They met our kids where they are at, and built them up from there, offering unprecedented access and lessons from the top professionals in the field. I watched as the gears moved behind the eyes of our students, learning, and as some audibly exclaimed, finding something they're passionate about.
Outside the 10 stairs and quarter pipes there were more fantastic moments to witness. I watched as a student got to meet the skater who made him want to skate, and then subsequently bask in the glow of meeting one of his heroes.
Sometimes it's hard to talk about these things, the emotions felt and the lessons learned, without coming off like some sort of canned motivational poster, eye roll inducing platitudes about service and making a difference. In our age of e-encouragement, gratification is easy and hollow, cheap and often self aggrandizing. We hashtag inspiration, but it can often be hard to find that connection.
But it is hard to remain cynical in these moments. Watching a student hold their breath as their favorite skater triumphs after a devastating fall and knowing that skater inspired the student to skate and in doing so, directly set them into the motion of our path. The stunned silence and goofy smiling euphoria of a student after meeting their favorite skater. Seeing a student pick up a camera and realize a natural talent that without the opportunities our program creates, could've lay dormant forever. Watching a group of students begin to understand that the little sliver of what we provide in classrooms, it is part of a larger world. This what I saw at SLS.
There is hope, in these little moments, where students find clarity, where students find joy, where suddenly a light goes on in a student's head that can illuminate them for the rest of their lives. As adults, the farther we get from our childhoods, the more we idealize it. We forget the drudgery, the loneliness, the crippling uncertainty, we remember the little moments of hope, and they color the rest. I remember how one great concert when I was their age, one moment, shaped who I was, what I wanted, and how I saw the world. That is what we deal in not decks and lessons, we deal in moments, we deal in hope, we deal in color, we deal in creating worlds that these kids can see themselves in, and in these times, that's something powerful.