Nested in the corner of the Banneker Recreational Park lies a skate park, dressed in graffiti. The park can be heard before it’s seen with skateboards banging against the concrete to the tunes of R&B and Hip-hop. If it’s quiet, it’s likely a weekday afternoon and the Howard University students that fill the park are busy at school. A growing community of Howard students meet at the park every Friday to skate, sit, talk and debrief after a long week.
“If I am not in class or working, I am skating,” said Monyell Sessoms, the Howard University Skate Club president. “If I’m frustrated I skate, if I’m happy I skate, if I’m sad I skate, literally any state you can find me skating. It’s kind of just my outlet.”
Sessoms was a huge fan of the music group Odd Future growing up and after watching them skate, she thought of taking it up herself. She enjoyed it, but she didn’t become an avid skater overnight. Sessoms didn’t live in sunny California like the people in Odd Future, she lived in North Carolina where hardly anyone around her skated, let alone any Black people. She didn’t have a cool group of people to skate with like those she admired.
Sessoms wanted to change that going into college and began recruiting skaters far before even stepping onto Howard’s campus. A year into the coronavirus pandemic and a year before students would return to Howard’s campus, Sessoms made a request for “Howard skate buddies” on Twitter.
Through this informal PSA, she met Kameren Haliday, another skater at Howard. Haliday is a junior computer science major and the vice president of the skateboarding club. When she was 11-years-old, she got her first board on Christmas. It was a thin, plastic $15 skateboard from Walmart. She was grateful for the board even though it was not the sturdy, wood skateboard that she really needed. Shortly after receiving the skateboard, she was riding at her local skatepark when the wheels abruptly stopped turning and she was stuck in a cast for weeks. During this time, she saved up for a better skateboard, and this one was perfect. If you saw Haliday, you saw her penny board glued to her arm, she described.
When the two finally arrived at Howard’s campus, they immediately began skateboarding. To their surprise, not many students were at Banneker upon their arrival.
“My first day here, I came up here and I was like ‘Dude, I don’t see any skaters,’” said Sessoms in disbelief. “So we started gradually finding each other, but I just thought, what if we were organized? What if we had set times to meet, just as a set inclusive space for everyone to come skate?”
The HU Skate Club had its first meeting on Friday, Aug. 19 and the turnout made Sessoms and Haliday more confident to continue promoting their club.
“First day, I had a bunch of people come up to me like, ‘Oh my god, there are Black skaters here… they didn’t know this was here, they didn’t know people skated on campus, but we’re here,” said Sessoms excitedly. “We’ve kinda created a space where people can just be happy Black kids, there’s no pressure to do anything.”
Haliday and Sessoms both attested to chasing down anyone they saw with a skateboard, urging them to join them at the park. Community was something both of them valued and they wanted to create one if it wasn’t already there. Not just for their fellow Howard students, but for little kids in the neighborhood who play just a few hundred feet away from the skatepark.
“We’re going to impact all the little girls that go to the playground and see us skateboarding, all the little boys that walk by, you know, to get McDonald’s with their friends and see us skateboarding. All the other students that think, ‘Oh I’m too old to learn’ actually come out here and want to learn,” said Haliday. “Because it’s something fun that everyone should be allowed to do. Free to express themselves in this way.”
Freedom of expression is what drives the club. Upon walking onto the skate grounds, one begins to realize that no one skater looks the same. Every shred of clothing, board and song that becomes a backdrop for cool tricks and aspiring skaters, all of it is aesthetically distinctive from the rest of what Howard University has to offer. Despite the individuality of every skater, they are all drawn to each other through the umbrella of being Black.
“We’re all here for the same purpose. Here, we’re all passionate about skating and it’s just somewhere we can go,” said freshman psychology major and health sciences minor, MJ, from Pennsylvania. “I feel like this skate community is very non-judgmental, especially as Black skaters. We just wanna hang out, this is our way of letting go, of having a good time.”
Regardless of skill or experience with a board, everyone who sets foot on the skating grounds feels free of all judgment, like Bryten Gant, a junior electronics studio major from Georgia.
“The fact that [the club] is very beginner friendly helps a lot because when I did my research, I feel like I got scared because I didn’t wanna be seen as a poser,” said Gant, holding their skateboard with both hands. “But seeing so many Black skaters is so empowering and the fact that they emphasize beginners are welcome made me feel accepted.”
Non-skaters, beginners and experienced skaters all share the park whole-heartedly. It’s a community that thrives because of everyone’s willingness to be who they are. This freedom to be authentic is what allows beginners to learn, fall and get back up without embarrassment. It’s common to find Haliday with a small group of beginner skaters, helping them balance on their boards, holding their arms so as to not fall over.
People like Sir Aivlys Blair, a Washington, D.C. resident, also teaches beginners how to skate. Blair doesn’t attend Howard University, but finds peace and happiness in skating and his ability to teach others how to skate.
“My homie signed up for this program to become a skateboarding teacher and he put me on. I applied and was accepted and I started doing lessons for like, two years, then branched off and started doing my own lessons,” said Blair, speaking over the thumping music and scraping skateboard wheels. “I love sharing this thing that carried me through more than half of my life and gave me happiness and friends I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
To people like Essenia Satya, a junior sociology major and Spanish minor from Oakland, California, the Howard University Skate Club is more than a large group of like-minded individuals who have a desire to skate, it’s a family of students and D.C. locals who have bonded over skate culture and Black culture. It’s a safe space of passion, dedication, friendship and love.
“All types of people are welcome, whether you skate or not,” said Satya. “You can come at 5 p.m. and there will be people skating here until, like, 11 p.m., even after the lights turn off. There’ll be people playing games and doing random stuff and becoming friends with each other.”
Skating is an art form. Howard students are often known for their acute sense of style, intelligence and art. The skate club is simply another affirmation of this established reputation. Jerome Halsell, a senior electrical engineering major from Indianapolis, Indiana, found comfort in the club’s welcoming atmosphere.
“Not only is it a community, it’s an open place for all, skaters and non-skaters alike,” Halsell said passionately. “It’s a place for people to just enjoy themselves, to watch others enjoy themselves, and you know, have a good time. This club is just another way Howard is expressing diversity and art.”
You can find more information on the club on Instagram.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee