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Syracuse Youth Find Common Ground Through Skateboarding
By Maria Fibiger, Community Partnerships Director, Syracuse Weed and Seed Community Partnership

Photo showing boy skateboarding up a ramp.
The National Guard's ramps were great fun for the skateboarders.

Photo showing a group of youth.
Youth from many neighborhoods and backgrounds came together for the SK8 Jam.

What happens when you bring about 100 skateboarding youth together with the New York State National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, local law enforcement, the district attorney's office, the local U.S. Attorney's Office, a neighborhood association, and a local church on a 90+ degree summer day? An awesome SK8 Jam presented by the Syracuse Weed and Seed Community Partnership!

Pronounced "skate jam," these events are popular competitions in the skateboarding community. For this one, collaboration was the key to making it a successful activity for city of Syracuse youth on 2 hazy, hot, and humid days in July. The site's Seed Committee had identified that many kids were skateboarding in the area, but really had no designated place to do so, much to the ire of many residence and business owners. With school out of session, many kids in the community also needed something to do that would be fun, healthy, and, of course, free. That's where the New York State National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force's Combat Skate Jam program saved the day. This community-based skateboard competition combines youth drug education with a National Guard-delivered mobile skate park. The National Guard provides the equipment for the event, assists with staffing, and brings along some terrific prizes paid for with funding from seized drug assets.

So, with the activity ready to roll, the next steps were to find a venue, secure volunteers, publicize and get the word out to all skateboarding youth in the area. The Weed and Seed site connected with the East Woods Skate Park Committee of the city's Northside residential area, whose members helped secure a spot for the SK8 Jam, spread the word about it, and provided volunteers. They even cooked hot dogs for the kids. This group was especially excited about the event because its members are working to raise funds to develop a proposed skate park in their neighborhood. The Reformed Church of Syracuse provided its parking lot, a perfect place for the skateboarders to do their thing on the National Guard's ramps and grinding equipment, while volunteers from local law enforcement agencies; Rural Metro Medical Services of Central New York, Syracuse; and the local Salvation Army helped to create a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for the kids. The teamwork of all these agencies and organizations produced a well-constructed and successful event.

SK8 Jam was undeniably fun, but what impressed all of the partners as the event rolled along was the respect, support, and collaboration the skateboarders gave to each other. Kids from all sides of the city participated in the free-skate and competition portions of the event without incident, confrontation, or difficulty. In a community with more than 40 identified gangs, many of which prey on youth, this type of positive interaction can be rare. Many of the kids in attendance were from different schools, diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, and distinct neighborhoods. None of that mattered to them. What mattered was their common ground—their appreciation for skateboarding. Kids who typically might be a part of turf battles in various neighborhoods worked together to learn skateboarding skills, showed each other new tricks, made way for kids who were less experienced, and mutually benefited from each other's presence. Their character and behavior throughout the SK8 Jam was inspiring and promising.

At first glance, the big picture of what it would take for the Syracuse Weed and Seed site to present a skateboarding event seemed daunting, a bit overwhelming, but definitely a must-do activity for the area's youth. The key to SK8 Jam was the collaborative and cooperative efforts and expertise of all the event's partners and volunteers. More importantly, the site discovered that the commonality, team spirit, and harmony of the skateboarders superseded all expectations.

For more information, contact:
Maria Fibiger
Community Partnerships Director
Syracuse Weed and Seed Community Partnership
315–474–1939, ext. 235

Syracuse Youth Find Common Ground Through Skateboarding

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