Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Practicing Thankfulness: Recognizing the grassroots of Skatelife Memphis

The past decade of my life has largely centered on training and research in the biological sciences. That training in combination with my personality, results in a single-minded approach to tackling projects. Usually, this is a good thing especially when a project may take 5 or 10 years to reach fruition.

However, as my wife can tell you, it can be annoying too. She tells me “Aaron, relax and think about something else or at least try and remember you are not the only one working on this!” So I am going to take a moment to pause and share with you all the people that have helped the project come this far.

Jim Boyd- BridgesUSA
Jim was one of the first people I met when we moved from the San Francisco area to Memphis back in 2006. He was kind enough to listen to my ideas and suggested Greenlaw community center as an ideal place for a skate park.

Golden's kids at the April 2008 Memphis Parks and Rec skate park demo

Detric Golden: Golden Child Ministries
I met Golden while measuring out square footage of a space in front of Greenlaw Community center. Detric has become a good friend and a big proponent of introducing skateboarding to the youth living in North Memphis. He is a former Memphis Tiger that gave up his pro-basketball career overseas to work full time with inner city kids living in the area around the community center. He grew up around the area so the kids living around Greenlaw are near and dear to him. He started an afterschool program at the center fittingly called GoldenChildMinistries. Through his program, his participating youth have a safe place to play, be tutored and exposed to a lot of activities they would not normally encounter- such as skateboarding. He has been a tireless mentor and father-figure for about 35 kids. His efforts show. For example,: some of his teenage youth are already working on “plan B” for their life just in case plan A doesn’t pan out. Wow! He has graciously let me take his youth skateboarding for the past two and a half years and we continue to skate about once a month together. His kids are getting good! I hope someday we get a mini-half pipe for his program.

Josh and Becky Lowry: Skate park of Memphis
Josh, the former owner of SPOM (R.I.P), graciously opened up his indoor skate park for Golden’s kids on numerous occasions -all for no charge. He let them borrow skateboards and pads and was an enthusiastic supporter of the skate community at large.

Gib Vestal- Memphis Athletic Ministries
I met Gib through a meeting at Second Presbyterian focused on healing our city. Gib is one of the most generous people around. He is a real professional in every sense of the word.After our first meeting he was willing to pay for an entire half-pipe and was highly supportive of starting a skateboarding activity for his MAM youth. Gib continues to be a key player in helping our Memphis youth.

Greg Simmons; witnessbmx
I met Greg through an email via the Skatelife website. Greg is a tireless advocate for our youth and uses extreme sports as a ministry tool for reaching kids. He is also one of the early skaters who helped build the skate scene here in Memphis. Greg is one of those people that you can count on at a moments notice to be there to support the cause. I have his wife, Mary Simmons, to partially thank for giving him a long leash.

Bryan Cage: Suite 10 skate boards
Early on, I needed to buy a large number of boards and pads to have available for Golden’s kids. Bryan generously sold us the equipment at cost. He continues to be a big advocate for skate parks and is involved in raising funds for the Batesville skate park.

Joe Mulherin: Multi-media specialist
Joe was the mastermind behind our name. We were formerly known as skateparkformemphis-functionally boring. He suggested a name that expressed just how much skating means to its community so Skatelife Memphis was born from that discussion.

Berkeley Burbank:
Berkeley put me in contact with Cindy Buchanan-our current director of Parks and Recreation.

Cindy Buchanan: Director of Park Services
Cindy and her staff were the first people to hear the skate park presentation. They were enthusiastic about the idea and have been solid supporters ever since. Cindy has shown her support by requesting and receiving $440,000 from the City Council for a public skate park. The money was approved in July 2008. We currently are waiting to here back the City Department of Engineering for a progress report. We’ll keep you updated.

Rita Dorsey:
I met Rita at our first Parks and Recreation Meeting back in the fall of 2006. Rita grew up in North Memphis and although she does not skate, she fully understands the tremendous need for more positive physical outlets available to kids in the area. She was a big supporter of getting a skate park built near Caldwell Elementary near Bickford Community Center. I still have hopes that some day we’ll get something built near there- the half-pipe at Greenlaw would be a great start. Rita is wonderful lady and is passionate about improving the well being of our youth. It’s encouraging to know we have public servants like Rita working in our city government. We need to clone her!

Tom Jones: SmartCity Memphis
I met Tom Jones when he and Carol Colletta came to St. Jude in the fall of 2007 to interview scientists. They were searching for ideas on how to keep scientists from
continuing to move away once they had finished their research internships at the hospital. I had just presented the skate park proposal to the Memphis Parks staff so I conveniently passed it on to Tom and Carol. Tom took the proposal seriously and has been one of the key proponents for the skate park. Like Rita, he didn’t skate in his youth, but he has seen first hand skate parks in all their animated glory. He’s traveled outside of Memphis and seen how skate parks have become integrally woven into the vibrant urban fabric of downtowns such as the one located in Louisville’s riverfront area. Tom serves as a supercharged-liaison between the established leadership and leaders emerging from the grass-roots. He is lighting fast in responding and promoting new and proven projects. Most importantly, his level of engagement is not tainted by what players are backing the project; rather he is engaged by individuals passionate about improving Memphis. Memphis is fortunate to have such a person- especially grassroots organizations who’s projects would perhaps otherwise collect digital dust in the inbox of a less enthusiastic official. Thanks Tom. You are another inspiring example of a public servant-a VOLUNTEER public servant.

Riverfront Development Corporation
Tom Jones, I and two other scientist colleagues of mine (Dr.’s Steve Zatechka and Zach Baquet) met with the John Conroy and Dorchelle Spence back in the winter of 2007 to discuss the idea of a skate park on Mud Island. I am grateful to them for their willingness to allow me to plant the skate park seed in their minds.

The Memphis skate community:
The skaters made a huge statement last year for the April 2008 Memphis Parks and Recreation skate park demo. With nothing more then a Myspace bulletin to get the word out, you showed up- all 300-400 of you! In particular, thanks to the skate shop owners, Ron Hale of Cheapskates, Josh Lowry of Cordova Board shop and Brad of Desoto Skate shop. I will be citing this day as a landmark event for along time as will our Parks director. Anytime Cindy needs to justify spending city money on skate parks she has the numbers to back her up. Whether it’s science or proposed budgets, you simply can’t argue with solid unbiased data.

Skate park task force
Mark Nagle, Matt,Brad,Terry,Greg, Binger, Shannon, Erich, Tim, Jim &Spencer, Mike, Jeff, Josh, Lance, BrianAKASneed and the rest of you. I know this project is starting to wear on all of you but you guys stepped up and did all that you could. If I failed to mention one of you email me. Keep up the fight for the next generation of skaters and for the health of our city.

Mike Lasiter
: Midsouth Homebuyers association
I met Mike while skating at the Skate Park of Memphis in Cordova. Mike is the master carpenter who over the years has designed and built most of the ramps that skaters have skated in the past 20 years. He has literally built the skate scene by hand. Mike is one of my main sources of inspiration to keep advocating for public skate parks in Memphis. He has seen numerous skate park projects come and go and he still shows up at every meeting that we have had! You deserve a lifetime skateboarding achievement award Mike.

Terry Kerr: Midsouth Homebuyers association
You all can thank Terry for the bumper stickers that you see around town that say ‘“Cracks Kill: Memphis needs a skate park.” Terry Kerr without hesitation generously donated the funds for those stickers. He also has refurbished the old SPOM bowl which now resides in his backyard. While most of you may not ever skate it again, he has opened it up to some of the key skaters that have been so integral in keeping the Memphis skate scene from completely dying. Terry is another one of those incredibly generous types that keeps giving and giving.

Lauren Taylor
: Hyde Family Foundations
Lauren is an enthusiastic supporter for the skate community. She walks the talk: She and husband and their 8 month baby showed up, on their own time, to support the Memphis Parks and Recreation skate park demo at the Fairgrounds. I have enjoyed sharing the ups and downs of the skate park projects with her.

Jim Bailey
: Healthy Memphis Common Table (HMCT)
Jim is a professor and medical doctor for the UT medical center. We met through the Skatelife website. He and his son would regularly come over and skate on the backyard half pipe at our house. It was there that he had a chance to meet some of the youth from the Greenlaw community center. From our casual backyard gatherings and conversations we started to work together to see how Healthy Memphis could incorporate skateboarding into their mission of tackling some of the obesity problems that our youth in Memphis are suffering from. One of Jim’s Healthy Memphis colleagues, Denise Bollheimer has also been an outspoken advocate for promoting skateboarding as a healthy relevant activity. HMCT works closely with MCS so hopefully someday in the future we’ll have skateboarding classes for the youth on Mud Island. How cool would that be? Does this sound far fetched? Consider this: cities in California and Colorado have incorporated skateboarding into their P.E. curriculum.

Ossie Lewis: Director of the Frayser Community Center
Ossie and I met the Fairground Skate park demo. He has been the most outspoken advocate for bringing skateboarding to our Memphis youth-period! You mention skating and his eyes light up and he will tell you that he has never seen any other activity bring such a diverse group of people together. He saw the future of Memphis on the day of the demo! His son is addicted to skateboarding so he knows what he is talking about. Thanks Ossie for sharing your enthusiasm with me and for being a co-bearer of a vision of what Memphis could look like a few years down the road.

Stacey Greenberg
Stacey is everywhere. She is one of the most prolific writers in Memphis. Her thoughts, ideas and conversations can be found multiple blogs (like here or here), magazines and most of the major news publications in town. She must have 8 hands or something. Stacey also has been one of the promoters of the Roller Derby; she helped re-energize CPOP and hosts the Rock-N-Romp all while working as a full time Mom. Is there an award category for this?? Stacey was kind enough to send out a skate-park survey for us to her Rock-n-Romp group. Stacey’s Rock-n-Romp represented the perfect group to survey. Rock-n-Romp is a backyard rock concert that was started for parents with young kids. Surveying this group gave me a lot of data about the current usage of Mud Island River Park. It also pointed to where most families wanted to see the small public skate park built. The favorite location turned out not surprisingly to be Overton park. It should be noted the skate park will not be built in Overton.

Park Friends:
Bill Rehberg and Glenn Cox were kind to allow me to present the case for a skate park in Overton at one of their board meetings. The presentation went well and both of them appreciated the merits having this recreational venue available to the youth living around Overton Park. In the end, the skate park was voted down due to some older board members who failed to comprehend what was being offered to them. Life goes on and I am still grateful for the chance for representing the younger families who would have enjoyed the skate park in Overton.

Eric Mathews
; Director of Launch Memphis
Eric is the twitter-master of Memphis. He lit up the twitter network with the message to take the Mud Island Land Use survey that will be used in the master planning of the Mud Island River Park. Eric got the word out that a skate park would rock Mud Island River Park. He also convinced me to start twittering. He has some great ideas for how we could do some cool online fundraising for small skate spots. We just need to find a non-profit that would be interested in partnering.

Elizabeth and Ian Lemmonds: Memphis Connect
Elizabeth was kind to let me post a few articles on Connect that discussed the merits of a Skate Park on Mud Island. Ian has been a big supporter by challenging me to do a downtown event for skateboarding. Hopefully we’ll get something put together.

Memphis Bogging Community
AtHomeSheFeelsLikeATourist, CoalitionforLivable communities, Fertilegroundzine, GatesofMemphis, MyMidtownMemphis, FieldguidetoMemphis, IntheBluff, SmartCity Memphis and Memphis Connect. There is nothing more satisfying that moving in solidarity towards accomplishing a common goal. You all have been a integral part of getting the word out about these projects. The best part about the blogging community has been the friendships established through these efforts. I hope we can all continue to work together on many other projects, other then skating, that will improve our lovely city. There will be many more, I am certain.....the groundswell of change has started…..

Michelle Shafer
: Co-founder of Skatelife Memphis
Without the support and encouragement of my wife perhaps I would have quit working on these projects a long time ago. She constantly reminds me to think of the next generation of skaters that will grow up enjoying the same activities I did. She reminds me that my true passion is sharing what I love to do with others. The long process is part of that sharing. She has helped me maintain a healthier long term perspective to help avoid project burn-out.

Matt Wright and Brad Woods: They started Faithskate.org last year at their church. Their outreach to the youth has grown exponentially from a few skaters to over 40. They have been an encouraging reminder of how skateboarding can be used as a effective relational tool for reaching into the lives of our youth. They made some key points during our focus group meeting with the RDC consulting firm.

Kris Gurley
: Kris is an old school skater who as of late has become an outspoken adovocate for skate parks. You can find his eloquently written notes on his Facebook page. His notes have made a strong and polite case for the public to take a closer look into what a large regional skate park would bring to the Downtown and greater Memphis area.

Looking ahead

The journey is still far from over. We are in the beginning phases for advocating for the Mud Island skate park but still it’s heartening and encouraging to look back and recognize the vast number of people that have helped move us to the place we are today. Let’s keep moving on together into a future where Memphis is a healthier more vibrant place to work, grow-up and play(skate) together.

Next stop: Mud Island River Park Public meeting phase
Where: Memphis Botanical Gardens- 750 Cherry Road
When; 5:45- 7pm, Thursday April 2nd.

1 comment:

Stacey Greenberg said...

Thanks for all of the kind words. It is really awesome to have someone like you move to Memphis and care so much about the community. I am really impressed by all that you have accomplished and all of the great people you have gotten involved in this! I see great things ahead.