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CAAM marks three decades

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 9/22/2010, 5 p.m.

While watching the news the other night, you may have seen one of those "good news" stories--kids getting some exercise at school. But these kids weren't just jogging or playing dodge ball. They were skateboarding. Uncommonly, skateboarding is being offered in some schools as a physical education class. Back in the day, folks in the urban neighborhoods took the wheels off roller-skates and stuck them on boards and many of them claim credit for inventing the sport which has become a headliner in the X Games, inspired concrete parks and become big business worldwide. But by coincidence, "How We Roll," an uncommon exhibit being featured at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park, is celebrating the stories of African American surfing, roller-skating and skateboarding athletes.

"I think it's real exciting, because skateboarding doesn't get that kind of recognition," said professional skateboarder and artist Chris Pastras, one of the instillation creators.

"All in all, skateboarding is colorblind," Pastras said in his interview for the "How We Roll" skateboarding.transworld.com video. "That's one of the amazing things about it."

Four decades of athletes--rollerskaters, surfers and skateboarders--are featured in the free exhibit, which will be on display through January 2, 2011. This is a unique and contemporary story for the CAAM, which is open Tuesdays through Sundays and is free of charge.

"Our Mission is probably even more relevant than it was 30 years ago," Jefferson said. "We are a museum talking about the African American experience from a first-voice perspective. There is no subject that we have not touched or been involved with - including skateboarding. We're not only restricted to talking about slavery and Civil Rights."

"Today's young people are living the dream of Dr. King, that one day we're all going to hold hands," Jefferson added. "These skateboarders have unique relationships integral to them."

Friends, the CAAM Foundation, is the tax exempt partner that provides the museum with financial and operational support to meet its mission: "To research, collect, preserve and interpret the history, art and culture of African Americans for public enrichment, with an emphasis on the western United States."

"One of the biggest aspects of this exposition that I like is obviously it's an African American museum," said Atiba Jefferson, professional skateboarder and photographer. "That's a place I don't get to show too often. Anything bringing skateboarding to a bigger, broader audience is a good thing."

The exhibit offers insight into African Americans' engagement in and cultural influence of the sports of surfing, rollerskating and skateboarding, highlighting athletes like Darlene Anderson, who joined the LA Thunderbirds in 1957, becoming the Roller Derby's first African-American skater.

"Ms. Anderson will be here in November to talk about her experiences," CAAM Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson said. "She is an inspirational figure and a true pioneer, excelling in a rough sport."

Since its opening more than 30 years ago, CAAM has done more than display artifacts on its walls. The museum makes it a point to showcase speakers, celebrities and living legends, bringing them into South L.A. for the community to enjoy.