Alongside the release of the Nike Dunk Low “Samba,” we’ve teamed up with froSkate to release two special colorways of their “Black Skaters Matter” tee, with 50% of proceeds being donated to Affinity Community Services and the Crossroads Fund. We spoke with froSkate founder Karlie Thornton and member L Brew to learn more about the organization:
For those who may be unaware, would you mind introducing froSkate and the organization’s mission statement?
Karlie: froSkate is a skate-crew based out of Chicago that aims to bring inclusivity into skateboarding via the BIPOC, LGBTQIA, trans and NGC communities.
Was there any initial reaction to kind of the formation of the organization itself and how has that kind of progressed since it started?
Karlie: The formation was just really natural. It was just me trying to learn how to skate and I didn’t really have any friends that looked like me or were riding like a similar level as me. I just invited a couple friends and then it kind of just turned into people wanting to join in and getting bigger. So we made an Instagram and then like that kind of formulated the official froSkate. But once we kind of started, one of our members tweeted about us, and it went viral on Twitter and all over social media, and that’s really what boosted our turnout to start to get like 40-50 people that would come out to the meetup and just take over the whole skatepark. But yeah, it’s definitely grown a lot since then, in just one year. We started off with like, 100 followers, after we went viral, we went to like 2000 or something. Then recently, we were at 4000 followers, and we had a protest and a couple other events, and now we’re at 10k. So it’s just like rapid growth from the organization.
The organization gained a lot of traction really fast, which obviously allows for a really nice platform for everybody. Outside of the skateboarding aspect, can you break down and share a couple of examples of the programming that you guys have put together?
Karlie: Yeah, so, earlier, programming really just involved our weekly meetups. Every Tuesday at seven o’clock, we would meet up at different skate parks around the city and just give a chance for everyone to come out and have community and be with people who look like them and have a great time to skate. And that turned into us wanting to hang out with each other outside of the skate park as friends and as family and having events. We did a movie in the backyard at one of our members’ houses and set up a sheet for a movie screen. We’ve done some workshops at a local DIY indoor skatepark where we hosted ramp building classes and a skateboard assembly workshop with friends from local skate shop Uprise. We’ve also done other events like our holiday fundraiser party, and a food drive toward the earlier end of quarantine when a lot of businesses started to close on the south side. Then we had the protests, and now we’re planning a couple more really dope events.
Have the local skateboarding institutions embraced froSkate? How are the relationships with skate shops, etc.?
Karlie: They’ve been so supportive from day one. I started skating last year and it was because of my friends at Uprise and my friends at House of Vans, who really pushed me to start. I went to skate at Vans and they gifted me a free skateboard and a free pair of skate shoes and invited me to their skate nights and stuff. So the skate community since day one has really, like been so supportive to us. And that’s just made froSkate that much easier and a pleasurable experience.
If you talk to most skaters, they’ll tell you that skateboarding is super inclusive as a whole.. But there’s obviously been a lack of representation for people of color since the beginning. Since the inception of froSkate, have you seen that landscape shift or evolve in any way?
L Brew: I think that there’s definitely this new huge wave of people who kind of aren’t what you would assume are typical skaters. So your black and brown people, your family, your women, your LGBTQ community. And I think a big part of that is just seeing more of yourself suddenly in the scene, representation obviously is super important. And it just makes it kind of a little bit easier to feel like you’re welcome in spaces or that you’re allowed to do things when you see people who look like you doing it. We’ve gotten a lot of that, like, skating has always been inclusive and stuff like that, which typically it has, it usually is a place for people who feel underrepresented or excluded from society in different ways to come out and be them. But the fact is that there you just didn’t see it.
Karlie: It’s stigmatized in many black communities, as well. Like, if you skate you’re trying to be white or you’re a nerd or something, or you’re weird, you know, there’s a lot of reasons why black and brown people were kind of like underrepresented in skateboarding. But it’s definitely a prevalent issue. But now like, we go to the skate park and see at least a handful of girls, they’re like really stoked.
Aside from like, the organized stuff that you guys put together and obviously, you know, texting friends to meet you at the parks or whatever, you know, have you noticed any difference in like your own personal demeanor or even the demeanor of other people?
L Brew: Yeah, for sure. I moved here to Chicago three or four years ago and skated completely by myself until I found froSkate a year ago and the reason that was is because I never saw anybody who looked like me in the skate park. The skate park is super intimidating, so I would often avoid it and go places where I purposely felt like I could be alone, so that I wouldn’t feel any kind of uneasiness in that space. So to have froSkate, and to be able to show up to the skate park in a mass with people who look like me, made it so much easier. And now I’m like, totally comfortable in the skatepark because I’ve had the opportunity and the accessibility now to be able to go into these places and not feel excluded and not feel alone. And that’s 100% changed and even still, sometimes when we go to parks, we’ll see like, people who identify as women kind of on the outskirts of the park and Karlie has always made like a really big effort of bringing those people into the park, not isolating ourselves or kind of like staying away from the action but really putting ourselves right there in the middle of everything as anybody should or as you know, as you should, you should feel welcome to be able to be in a skatepark.
Karlie: We’ve gotten more comfortable being bold and unapologetic with our presence in the skatepark and are trying to encourage others to do that as well. Definitely committing to come to the skatepark. And then people kind of like, they just get scared to go out there. They’re scared to fall and they get scared to even skate because they feel like they’re in people’s way. And that also translates into our lives, we’ve got bolder in our approach on asking for things or not being afraid to go up to certain people and talk to them.
What effect has skating had on your life outside of the sport?
L Brew: There’s a lot of lessons you learn in skateboarding that translate to real life. And I think something I’ve seen, like, not only in skating, but in my own life is just confidence, and kind of getting out of our own heads, like ending the self-judgment, because I think a lot of the fear of being in a space where you’re not seen as that you’re being judged, even though you might not necessarily be hearing anything. It’s just kind of like the voice in your head. So like 100% getting over those insecure thoughts, and being around people who very blatantly help you do that too, and who encourage you and help you feel less insecure has been something that made a big difference in feeling welcome in those spaces.
Karlie: It has really affected my personal life, I feel like in more ways than like a normal skater because I started a skateboarding organization. I kind of have to look at it from the fun sport aspect as well as the business’s organizational aspects. My first year of skating. was the first year of me building froSkate as an organization and it was like an incredibly stressful, challenging time, which kind of discouraged me from skating for a little minute because it felt like a chore, like a job that I had to do. It was just like, climbing up the mountain really. But like now it’s so much more enjoyable. And we’re kind of coasting with the organization and I’ve got help from people like L Brew, so it’s better. I’m more comfortable with it, I’m having fun with it and in my life as well, it’s just encouraged me to be someone that works with all different types of people and is able to get along and be able to ask for help. I’m still learning. I’m planning events, you know, having to be an administrator, or having to be a boss. Having to work with different personalities, different work traits, and stuff. I need to learn how to teach people things. When you’re skating, you have to know how to pass down, like, what you’re doing well, in the best way, this type of people. So it definitely pushed me in many different ways, like, as a skater, but also like, within my life to be more expansive in who I am.
Talk a little bit more about the fact that you essentially started an organization in a culture you’re still learning about. You hear the phrase “getting your feet wet” so often, but you kind of skipped that.
Karlie: I tend to do that a lot, for a lot of different things in my life. It’s kind of a trend. I actually thought about the fact that it’s kind of like dropping in. When you’re up there, it looks really scary and you can really mess up if you let the fear take over you. But if you’re up there and you confidently trust that you might land it, but you have to slam down on the board like with confidence and power, then you’re going to make it and like that’s really just like, the lens that I take on a lot of different things. I feel like, or at least with me, and a lot of different case scenarios, for other people as well, If you don’t take action on your idea, it’s just never going to happen. It’s just an idea. Like, it’s really just about like, making it happen. Now, if things are lined up to where you feel like it could happen, go do it. Stop waiting, stop hesitating. Hesitating is like not always the best option. I know for some people, college is that stepping stone to like, help them figure out what they want to do. But it’s like, if you already kind of know what you want to do, and you kind of know how to do it. Just do it and learn along the way. Life is the best teacher in that sense.
Part of the proceeds from the collaboration will be donated to Affinity Community Services as well as the Crossroads Fund. Can you explain why these organizations align with your own so well?
Karlie: We really wanted to make sure that the organization we chose was involved in the current movement today, which is the Black Lives Matter movement. I really wanted to make sure that they were contributing and giving out their money that they received to make programming or protest or support system for Chicago’s black and brown residents, and especially a community which is so close to us, which is the LGBTQIA community. So it was kind of a perfect fit to choose Affinity Which is a black-led, queer led organization on the Southside of Chicago, which is literally dedicated to social justice. And for that black and LGBTQIA, which is kind of similar in our organization as well. So, yeah, we just wanted to make sure that the org that we were choosing is involved. They’re doing amazing programming and their mission kind of aligns with ours.
Long term, what’s the goal for froSkate? How can people get involved or donate?
Karlie: I’d say like the big mission is to continue to make skateboarding way more inclusive so that when you go to a skate park, you see as many black and queer skaters as you would white men. And that’s like our major cool, you know, of course, that personally would love to expand in ways. I’ve been like getting your own skateboard, you know, being able to sponsor skaters we’re inspired by and that we look up to as well. And that aligned with our mission, who we feel like there’s not enough representation in media for the black and brown queer community. So to be able to sponsor those skaters would be amazing. We’d love to spread worldwide. We want to build skateparks in BIPOC neighborhoods, to have our own indoor spot in Chicago, and expand our entire organization because there are not many organizations that are like us out there. There’s a lot of skate crews for women or for the queer community, but we’re specifically centering the black and brown community. So with that, there’s kind of no rules to what we’re doing. As far as how people can support us? Donations are always welcomed. Through our Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, we got it all. But I was just recently talking about how monetary support is what keeps us going and allows us to save so that we can fund those future goals like skate parks, etc. But also, we’ve met a lot of amazing people who have great skills and connections, so if people really want to help us actually make our dreams a reality, there’s so much value in is providing your skills, services, and even connecting us with folks who they know can also help and push/fund our goals.
Affinity Community Services
Founded in 1995, Affinity Community Services was created to help bring awareness to the LGBTQIA+ community of the southside of Chicago. Focusing on black women and dedicated to health wellness & safety, education and civic engagement, Affinity provides intergenerational programming and resources to ensure that people of all ages are provided with the support they need.
Learn more about the organization here.
The Crossroads Fund
Founded in 1979, the Crossroads Fund was developed in order to give active community members control over where charitable donations/grants were being made. Since its’ inception, the organization has redistributed more than $6 million to hundreds of groups dedicated to all types of social issues.
Learn more about the organization here.