It is no surprise that skateboarding has become increasingly popular in the UK, with over 50,000 people participating in the sport this year alone. Sure, we automatically think of sweaty teenage boys with long hair and rebellious attitudes. But have you ever heard of a liberating, multicultural boss group?
Well, move over boys, let’s make way for the cool new skating group in town – Melanin Skate Gals n Pals.
Marie-Ermelinda Mayassi is the 25-year-old founder of ‘Melanin Skate Gals n Pals’ – a new skating group that aims to establish inclusiveness amongst its queer, multi-ethnic members. The community was founded in March 2021 in London, a unique concept after Mayassi advocated for change in a predominately white skating community.
“When I first started skateboarding in 2017, there was no one looking like me. I’m used to being the only black woman in white spaces, but I thought ‘wow there is not enough non-male or non-white people here that are able to benefit from skateboarding’. I wanted to share these benefits with other people”, she says.
Marie felt the need to challenge the existing skating community which was “extremely toxic, misogynistic and not welcoming of anyone that wasn’t a dude skating half-naked.”
The need for change, and fast
Marie goes on to share her experiences in the skating community after the Black Lives Matter Movement that emerged last year in 2020. She says: “When I was trying to call out any racism in the skateboarding community, I would see that others wouldn’t support me in making things right. I just got so tired, especially seeing this happening all over the world, I just wanted to create a safe space for skaters of colour and queer skaters to come. But also, to make a non-threatening place where non-queers or beginners can come.”
Indeed, the group quickly became a safe space for its ethnic-minority members to gain that sense of empowerment, freedom and solidarity that seemed alien in the world.
“It’s a space where the members are never silenced, but always uplifted”
Melanin Skate Gals n Pals aims to support its members by allowing them to freely express themselves without being judged or pitied.
For Marie, the group encourages its ethnically-diverse members to openly share their experiences with racism in wider society – minus the victimisation. She goes on to say: “One of the great things about Melanin Skate Gals n Pals is that we can talk about our experiences with marginalisation, without having to tone it down or make it palatable. It’s been so good to be amongst POC (People of Colour) because I can talk to them about the racism that I experienced without being performatively dramatic about it.”
Social Justice Advocates
Melanin Skate Gals n Pals has been growing rapidly on TikTok, with over 30,000 likes and an increasing following rate. But skateboarding footage is not the only content the group showcases, as they’ve also taken to social media to raise awareness on social issues.
Commenting on this, Marie says: “I was always fascinated by international development. If I want to help these marginalised communities, I need to be doing the social action work behind it.”
The desire to get involved in social causes developed when Marie was at the young age of 17. At the start of what was to become an exciting skateboarding journey ahead of her, Marie found Skate Pal – a skateboarding organisation that taught skating to Palestinian youth.
“I volunteered there for 6 weeks, and I just got so inspired. We could see how good it was for the children to just have those few hours in the day to take their mind off the occupation and the terrible things happening around them”, she says.
The participants have collaborated with Care4Calais, a refugee crisis charity who have recently provided aid to the Afghanistan sanctuary. The skating collective have urged their followers to donate necessities for the cause, such as clothes and bedding.
“Often we feel so powerless in social justice crises. With this case, I couldn’t do anything so I started donating clothes and supplies which would be the easiest way to support them.”
The skating community aims to organise more fundraising events in the foreseeable future, with a skating event in South Ghana already under their wing. The intention is to expand the skateboarding community there, whilst also “diversifying” it.
Of course, such events don’t come without fun! According to Marie, more fundraising events are on the way, with plenty of food and music to go around. The group leader takes pride in being the first group in the UK and Europe to host such events, including their recent ‘Skatestival’ – a “skate retreat” that featured only POC and was what Marie calls “a black, queer utopia”.
What else can we expect from Melanin Skate Gals n Pals?
According to founder Marie, we can expect lots of “fun” as well as “a lot of expansion.” The team aims to become more sustainable in the future, whilst also creating opportunities to hire members of the community for paid job roles.
Mayassi reiterates the immense opportunities within the skateboarding community, referring to it as “creative.” She lists graphic design, project management, as well as art and creative strategies amongst the many employable skills that the community has to offer.
“People always question why we try to ‘capitalise’ skateboarding, but I just say no! I want to create opportunities for POC to benefit from skating the way that white people do”, she says.
“Too often we ask POC to do free labour and we try to make them feel bad for making a living. Life is not free, and if I am to do this full-time with no wage to go on, then I cannot make a sustainable long-term social impact.”
Marie hopes that through Melanin Skate Gals n Pals, more members from disadvantaged communities can undertake skating as a sport. The empowering group strive to “raise more awareness on the safe spaces, the importance of uplifting marginalised communities and not tokenising them.”
The impressive team, which currently hosts over 800 members, are still welcoming individuals who want to join the uplifting community with open arms and big smiles! Head over to their Instagram – @melaningalsnpals for more information on how to join.
Participants are also encouraged to donate to their cause of making skating accessible for everyone, which can be found on their official Linktree. This also allows new members to sign up for skating lessons, as well as weekly meetups with the purpose of establishing new connections and inspiring the community.