By Maryam Balbed
Mine is a long and complex story. I hope that I can make it as brief as possible.
My daughter Yaya got interested in skating when she was 13. After seeing a Kick Push video I decided to start skating too, just as a bonding thing with her. (I grew up in the projects and had never seen skating in the hood until I watched it).
When we started skating, the city we lived in blocked off one street on the weekends for kids to skateboard. That’s Silver Spring in Maryland, one of the first big skating areas around D.C. That blocked-off street was THE only legal place for kids to skate in the entire city.
One Saturday we showed up to skate and the street wasn’t blocked off and no one knew why. Turned out, the city completely shut down the only safe and legal place for kids to skate, which I realized would have the effect of pushing very young kids into back alleys and illegal, unsafe skate spots.
Around the same time, gangs were growing fast in our area, and they saw skaters as easy victims — they often use cameras to photograph and film each other skating. My kids were almost all Black and Brown, but they were suburban kids, completely unprepared to defend themselves against hardcore bangers.
By this time I had written to the county executive and every county official and every worthless poverty pimp I could think of, these kids were being robbed and beaten up on a regular, just because they didn’t have a safe space to skate, and no one seemed to care.
I started skating with the kids on a daily basis because it was obvious that the presence of an adult tended to discourage a lot of people from taking advantage of them.
There’s a REALLY crazy piece of this story that I won’t share now — in which we made our own peace with the gangs (Bloods, specifically) — and after that we had no more problems from them, they came to like us, to think skateboarding was cool, and became extremely protective over me and over my daughter. The skaters were already calling me Mom, and then the bangers started doing it too.
I started a blog and pissed off every official in my city because I said exactly what happened and why. Of course it’s about developers not wanting to go give up valuable land for a bunch of teenage boys, but the real resistance to building a skate park in Silver Spring was about race. Years prior to these events, when I was pushing for recreation for kids in a new development, people would actually get up in meetings and say “No, we don’t want recreation facilities because that’s going to draw all the poor Black kids from D.C.”
The area I’m telling you about is literally blocks from D.C., and fear of Black people from D.C. makes these people crazy — in the bluest state in America.
In the meetings about a skate park that we were fighting for, we shocked people when again and again, we showed up deep. I often had more skaters at these meetings than the people who were convinced that they’d bring drugs and crime into the communities.
Against all odds we won: we got our skate park. Now, years later many in the community now acknowledge that they were wrong, and that the skate park is a good thing.
This skate park has played a major role in the lives of some amazing young people, like Elliot Powell who just returned for the second time from Sundance with his IB Film class, and Edgar Romero who now owns skateboard company.
As I recently said on Twitter, when other people looked at these kids and saw young criminals, I saw young athletes with dreams–athletes with no access to high-priced teams and camps.
My son Elijah Jamal Balbed is a serious young cat on the jazz scene (tenor sax) and he used to skate. I know a whole lot of successful young people stayed on the straight and narrow through skateboarding.
I’m extremely passionate about getting more boards into the ‘hood – my old ‘hood in D.C. (Shaw area) now has a skate park, and this shit saves lives.