Arturo had just started seventh grade when he started wondering why they didn’t just build a skate park in the empty lot on the corner, instead of setting up ramps in the street. Santana, also a seventh grader, had been involved with an Enlace summer skateboarding program and was impressed by the way that skating brought people together around a positive activity, and started to take younger skaters under his wing. Eli Whitney Community Schools staff encouraged them to apply for a small grant offered by the Crib Collective. They developed a name (Skating in Little Village and Earning Reputation, or SILVER), created the proposal and received $2000 in 2008 to build a temporary park in an empty lot. They set about finding a location, attending meetings, attending hearings, holding meetings, planning events, developing relationships, writing grant proposals, designing the space, redesigning the space, designing logos and clothing, building skate equipment, attracting press…and pulling together the group of leaders that you see here today.
In the end, they ended up building the first concrete skate plaza (not a skate park) in the city, paid for with community-raised funds and the collaboration of these young leaders with community organizations, city agencies, politicians, foundations, local businesses, schools, designers – and each other. The process of fundraising and design continues so that the plaza can accommodate more people and more uses. This summer, the plaza hosted a youth jobs program that pulled youth from all over the neighborhood and all over the city to design and build skateboards (Leo assisted with this program and is now teaching on his own as part of the Community School at LVLHS), as well as families to watch their young children push kicking around on mini boards. This summer, this group built pieces of the plaza themselves. They, and the rest of the young people that use this space, pick up garbage, work to prevent (and sometimes enforce clean up of) graffiti, mediate disagreements, write their own regulations for the use of the plaza, request garbage cans, better lighting and water access from the park, and, most recently, shovel two feet of snow to be able to use even an 1/8 of the space. This is their home – they built it – and they treat it that way. In fact, they call the plaza, “skate university” – this is where they practice, learn, teach and mentor, and then practice some more.
Arturo admits that he wasn’t sure they would accomplish their original goal – a $2,000 temporary skate park in an empty lot – and couldn’t have imagined what they would ultimately achieve. And Rocio said it best this summer – “This is successful because of consistency with urgency.” Another young woman in the program, who comes from the southeast side of the city, said that when she learned about the hunger strike and the organizing campaign that had made Little Village Lawndale High School a reality ten years ago (and only two blocks from the skate plaza), she made the connection right away. “People in this community fight for what they want until they get it. In my neighborhood, we are fighting for jobs and economic development. Maybe we should give presentations about what we are doing here in Little Village for other communities.” SILVER’s mission is to develop resources for skaters in Little Village and Lawndale, but they have ultimately developed a family friendly plaza that attracts people from all over the Chicagoland area, and furthered a model of “consistent and urgent” organizing in the spirit of Chuy Garcia.