Skateboarding Is Not a Crime—It’s a Lifeline
Participating in after-school athletic programs such as soccer, basketball, or baseball is the norm for thousands of American kids. But what about low-income youths of color who enjoy the thrill of pushing a skateboard along a city sidewalk or doing a kickflip down some steps?
Engaging those kids is the mission of the Harold Hunter Foundation, a New York City–based nonprofit that uses skateboarding to transform the lives of youths. With summer camps and events throughout the school year, the foundation teaches life skills to young people and empowers them to positively channel their creativity.
“The thing is that the kids who would be categorized as most at risk are not interested in having a team or having a coach telling them what to do,” Jessica Forsyth, executive director of the Harold Hunter Foundation, told TakePart. “For those kind of kids, skateboarding is a perfect thing to reach them because it legitimately is something that kids who are rebellious are drawn to.”
Youth development programs such as the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Clubs often provide academic or emotional resources to kids. But skateboarding is able to attract at-risk youths who might not otherwise find traditional outreach programs attractive.
“Society as a whole is missing out because we’re not finding alternative ways to support and educate and advocate for kids who have an incredible contribution to make,” Forsyth said. “Skateboarding is a really incredible way to channel that energy into something that’s productive and gratifying and teaches them about being persistent and setting goals and sticking to them.”
The nonprofit was founded in 2007 in honor of world-class professional skateboarder Harold Hunter, who died the previous year at 31. “Harold was one of the early black skaters who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City. He was pretty much like an adopted brother of mine,” Forsyth said. Hunter, who toured with Zoo York and starred in the 1995 film Kids, overcame numerous challenges to succeed.
“The money that was left over after his funeral expenses were paid—the collective community, New York City skateboard community, said there should be a foundation in his memory. They came to my family and said, ‘Can you guys get this set up?’ So we did it,” Forsyth said.
Every summer, HHF sends about 30 low-income, mostly black and Latino kids from New York City to overnight skate camps outside the city. To be eligible, the youths have to stay in school and demonstrate financial need. Much of the money the foundation raises goes toward scholarships for kids to go to camp. Youths are typically sent for two consecutive summers as a way to develop a relationship with HHF, a practice that Forsyth said leads to the teens gaining training skills and mentorships. International skate trips and digital media training are also offered through HHF. Videos about the positive effect of participating in HHF events, such as the one above, are edited by interns—all of whom were previously skaters in the program.
Research shows that kids who aren’t in after-school activities are more likely to become involved in gangs or use drugs. “Skateboarders are a good example of the thrill seekers and risk takers who don’t want to follow the rules but need help, and they’re not gonna get help through the traditional channels,” Forsyth said.
“I think skateboarding really saves a lot of these kids from what otherwise might be a kind of dangerous life,” she said.