Diversity in the Skate Scene: Spotlight on Black Girls Skate

The skatepark can be a pretty intimidating place for beginners. Especially if you can’t spot anyone who looks like you or shares your life experience. When DJ Gooden started diving deeper into skateboarding, they immediately noticed a lack of Black women skaters in the scene. That’s when they decided to start Black Girls Skate (BGS) on Instagram. It was their way of inspiring and increasing the visibility of skaters across the Black diaspora, particularly those who identify as women, nonbinary, or trans. The profile quickly gained a following and motivated DJ to build something even more impactful. Soon thereafter, they partnered with Creative Strategist Nicole Humphrey to grow BGS into a full-on nonprofit organization.

Since starting in 2019, BGS continues to gain momentum, like a skateboarder dropping in on a vert ramp. Through social media and content creation, they start meaningful conversations around skater visibility, safety, and equity. With a team of leads and liaisons in three countries, BGS works to make skating more approachable for underrepresented and historically marginalized groups, focusing on youth and young adults ages 16–25. In addition to the online resources they provide, they run popup skating events in major cities where they deliver careboxes to aspiring skaters. They also recently launched their own Threadless Artist Shop, where you’ll find BGS merch including tees and skateboards.

Amid all of the exciting events BGS is coordinating, Nicole took time to chat with us about their ongoing initiatives. Read on for more on how BGS is expanding their reach, their Red Bull–sponsored tour, and what’s on the horizon.

One of the main objectives of Black Girls Skate is to boost the visibility of skaters who identify as women, nonbinary, trans, Black, African, and/or people of color. What power does representation have, particularly in the skating world?

Nicole Humphrey: Representation is everything. We are directly influenced by the things we see on television, in magazines, and online/social media. Given the popularity of skate practice and culture, we believe it’s vital that minority voices are prioritized. Additionally, it’s important to create diversity in the recognition of all skill levels and skate styles (longboarding, figure skating, speed skating, derby players, skateboarding, etc). We hope that by creating platforms for skaters, others will be inspired to join the practice and build within their communities.

Who were some of the skaters who influenced or were integral to the launch of BGS? What has the response been like from the skating community at large?

DJ was inspired by Samarria Brevard and Stephanie Pierson early in creating Black Girls Skate. They discovered Brevard’s signature Enjoi skateboard, and were curious as to how they’d lived a whole life and were just now discovering these skaters. After a year of building Black Girls Skate online through Instagram, DJ tapped me to support. After organizing a five-city popup tour in September of 2020, the response from the skate community was overwhelmingly positive and inspiring. We hope to continue to rally support online and annually through the popup tour. So far, we’ve popped up in 13 cities and given out 150+ careboxes.

BGS has 15+ leads and liaisons (former ambassadors) in the United States, the UK, and France. What do they do and how have their roles evolved over time?

Being an BGS ambassador is a role anyone can claim through directly supporting our work. We have evolved our team to include leads and liaisons who directly support the programming and content production for all Black Girls Skate initiatives. In an effort to create an equity pathway for the skill contributed through project management, logistics, and creative design of our team, we have reduced that team to seven.

With BGS’s presence in three different countries, have you noticed any notable differences in the skate scenes/cultures in each country? Have there been any surprises or unexpected obstacles?

The presence has been overwhelming online. To our surprise, our efforts are inspiring collectives/crews all around the world. From the UK to Tokyo. From the comments to the DM.  We hope to expand our annual popup tour overseas next year. Additionally, we plan to create equity opportunities for collaborating with these collectives on merchandise and skate spaces.

BGS is currently in the middle of its 2021 Popup Tour sponsored by Red Bull. It’s scheduled to run through August 23. How did this tour come together and what can people expect?

The tour was created from our desire to give skaters a gift that could inspire their practices in the form of a carebox. We decided it’d be meaningful if we could not only give these gifts in person, but also meet up and skate. In September of 2020, with the stay-at-home orders relaxing, we decided to hit the road, visiting five cities (Atlanta, Philly, NY, Dayton, OH, and Chicago). After that, we knew that our organizing efforts had to be global, and we wanted to figure it out so we could keep giving away careboxes and popping up in cities.

Equally important, we needed to collaborate. This year, we picked 12 cities and mapped out ways to bring folx together to push equity for small businesses and creatives. Folx can expect more fun, more giveaways, and more activities. As our partners grow and COVID-19 restrictions relax, we hope to build out more meaningful moments to skate and connect.

In addition to selling skateboards and other gear in your Threadless Artist Shop, BGS assists beginner skaters with free resources including slides on Choosing a Skateboard. What was the trial and error process like for you when you were looking for the right skateboard setup? What was something you wish you knew at the beginning of your search?

The trial and error has been separate for us. DJ is the vet and has been skating for over 15 years. I’ve been skating for 6 years mostly on a penny cruiser. DJ’s gear hunt started when they wanted to transition to skatepark bowls. I picked up a skateboard for our tour in 2020, and have been slowly inching up using DJ as a guide. What we both can agree we wish we knew was that there were levels to skating that didn’t involve hitting a certain trick or making it pro. Seeing and understanding the leisure, mental wellness, and various styles of skating may have pushed us both to try something a little sooner.

What’s your favorite item or design in your Threadless Artist Shop and why?

Our favorite items by far are the skateboard decks/completes. Just the idea that we have our own skateboards. Like wow. But biasly, we could say everything, and the ability that Threadless provides. We’re adding new items constantly. We’ve even had an opportunity to suggest new products.

What is the BGS Skater Database and how can it benefit skaters?

The Skater Database is a running group of skaters who get first invites to our events and giveaways. We use this as standing databases to connect with skaters along our popup tour. We hope to create a forum where we can connect all members.

Looking back, what are some of the milestones you’re most proud of so far? Is there any instance in particular that made you think “wow, we’re really making a difference”?

So many moments for us to count. For us, the joy has come from how people show up and how they leave our events. Most times meeting someone who you didn’t know, then exchanging contacts and planning for the next link up. The organic build of lifelong relationships. Additionally, our platform and networking encourage financial opportunities for skaters both through photography and advertising. We want to shape our work in the form of an agency, allowing for professional development, legal council, marketing, and tech + production services.

Looking forward, what are some of the long-term goals for BGS? What can skaters look forward to?

We are looking forward to expanding our work to tech and development, which includes building up skate gear, skateparks, and content. Skaters can look forward to more popups and cool collaborations.

The pictures featured in the image at the top of this post are from Black Girl Skate’s Instagram. Visit their page to find more awesome photos from their events!

Rafael Velez

Copywriter at Threadless. Lover of thin-crust pizza, heavy metal, and B horror movies. Food source for a husky and two cats.