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.
CAAM hosted screenings of music documentaries during Black Music Month in June; A community dialogue followed the August screening of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” by Spike Lee; this Saturday, Sept. 25, “Conversations at CAAM” will feature pioneering scientist and Caltech Professor Stephen L. Mayo, Ph.D.; and in October, photographer Rick Russell, contributor to the current exhibit “Allensworth: A Place, A People, A Story,” will lead a workshop for amateur digital photographers.
The museum celebrates the first Sunday of each month with entertainment, food, arts and crafts at its Target Sundays. The next event on October 3rd celebrates “The Griot in You,” and the oral storytelling tradition.
“We know that our free attendance policy is a valuable asset for many belt-tightening families,” Jefferson said. “Though the economy has slowed our plans to create an acquisition fund, we still managed to grow our collection with purchases of three major works last spring.
Jefferson credits her tireless staff and board, devoted volunteers, and a continually growing number of supportive members and generous donors.
Last week CAAM held a membership drive event at World on Wheels where members invited prospective new members for an evening of prizes, trivia contests, raffles and skate dancing contests.
“And our annual gala, ‘An Artful Evening,’ will be held on October 9th,” Jefferson said. “The Friends of CAAM are looking to net about $150,000 and the nice thing about the gala is we get to have a great party.”
CAAM is honoring William E. Pajaud with a Lifetime Achievement Award; William “Mickey” Stevenson with the Tom Bradley Unsung Hero Award and CAAM neighbors, the California Science Center with the Community Partner Award.
“We’re honoring the Science Center because of the partnership we have with them,” Jefferson said. “Our docents worked during their ‘I Am America’ exhibit, they work with us to enhance Exposition Park and they deserve to get a pat on the back.”
“Bill Pajaud is a New Orleans native and watercolor artist and he’s responsible for founding the art collection at Golden State Mutual Life Insurance.”
“Our third honoree is one of the original A and R guys for Motown,” Jefferson added. “He wrote ‘Dancing in the Streets’ and is one of the unsung heroes in our community.
“We’re going to have some old school singing and dancing,” she said. “It should be a lot of fun.”
For more information about CAAM and the upcoming gala, visit www.caamuseum.org or call (213) 744-7432.