On May 12, Memphis Athletic Ministries held its second annual Mini Ramp SK8 Jam at its Greenlaw center in the heart of Uptown. An all-ages skateboarding competition, the event also included free food, vendors, prizes and a live art demonstration for a fast-paced, one of a kind event.
“I enjoy that there are all levels of competition,” said Brittany Forbes, winner of the 16+ women’s division. “There are the young kids who don’t know how to stand on the skateboard yet; they’re just out here riding around. There’s intermediate and even advanced. So all categories are included.”
In addition to a range of skill levels, the competitors ranged in age from eight to 32 and represented neighborhoods from across the city.
MAM is a faith-based organization that works in under-served neighborhoods providing activities for youth in a safe space. Sports, bible study and literacy programs, life skills and career readiness classes are all part of MAM’s holistic approach.
David Yancey III is turning a lifelong love of skateboarding into a way to connect with kids in Uptown. He organized this year's contest and leads a twice-weekly skateboarding class at the Greenlaw center. (Shelda Edwards)The money raised from the competition’s entrance fees will go towards its summer camp program for the 60 to 120 youth it serves each day in Uptown.
MAM has eight locations in the city, but its Greenlaw center at 190 Mill Avenue is unique thanks to its permanent half pipe, a U-shaped ramp used for jumps and other tricks by sports like inline skating, BMX biking and skateboarding.
MAM installed the ramp and surrounding murals in 2009. The nonprofit launched a skate program, which was a popular activity at the center until the program director moved away. Volunteers tried to keep the program afloat, but with a less consistent schedule, many of the youth lost trust and interest.
In January of this year, David Yancey III began volunteering with the hopes of reviving the program. He opens the skate ramp every Wednesday and Friday and mentors kids from elementary through high school on skills, proper form, and safety.
Originally from San Diego, Yancey started skateboarding at six years old. Now thirty-five, he’s passionate about teaching his favorite sport to kids in Uptown.
“I felt like skateboarding was an outlet for me. It was also a way for me to express myself and have fun. I love it so much, and I definitely wanted to share with the younger generation and plant that seed,” he said.
Yancey also organized this year’s event. The competitors came from across the Memphis metro area, but he is hopeful that as he continues to build rapport in Uptown, more youth will want to participate in future competitions, both in the neighborhood and beyond.
Madison Taper, winner of the girls' ages 8 to 15 division, shows off her new Fluxus skateboard. Fluxus boards are made in Memphis and are designed by local artists. (Shelda Edwards)
Ten-year-old Madison Taper, winner of the girls' ages 8 to 15 division, is one of his first converts. She said she entered the competition for two reasons:
“To win and to show how much I love Mr. David … if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t know how to skateboard.”
For some competitors, the contest was a glimpse into a possible future in the sport.
Thirteen-year-old Courtlan Black loved competing along side several of his friends in the boys' ages 13 to 15 division, but during the competition, his focus was squarely on the prize. As Yancey counted him down, Black popped in his earbuds and hit play on just the right song. At go, he dropped fast and hard into the ramp and sailed up its other side. After 60 seconds of jumps, slides, and spins, the crowd erupted and his focused stare melted into a wide smile.
Black won his division and he plans to win more.
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“I think I’ll try to build a name for myself. This is what I want to do,” he said, still catching his breath.
The event also offered a look into another possible future. Local artist and muralist Toonky was on hand with a live, interactive art demonstration. Toonky said he hopes he can inspire the youth to pursue careers in art.
Uptown: Mini Ramp Skate Jam from High Ground News on Vimeo
“[I’m here to] show kids that they can do art, that it’s a skill. Like showing the business of art, that you can make money off this kind of stuff,” said Toonky.
Seeing these options and having safe spaces like MAM to explore new interests are particularly important in neighborhoods with years of disinvestment like Uptown.
“This is important because we’ve got so many gangs and things that kids can get into these days. They need things like this to keep them away from that. If they didn’t have places like MAM to come in, they’d be out in the streets,” said Ernie Prude, area director for MAM. He and assistant neighborhood director April Golden run the Greenlaw center.
The competition also gave MAM youth the opportunity to meet people from outside of the neighborhood and talk to industry experts.
Courtlan Black is all smiles as David Yancey announces him the winner of the boys' aged 13 to 15 division. (Shelda Edwards)
In attendance was Fluxus Skateboard Co., a local venture that creates skateboards and related products and is a partner in the Society Memphis indoor skatepark and coffee bar. The venue will offer monthly and day passes as well as camps and lock-ins for young skaters. It’s expected to open on Broad Avenue this year.
Fluxus boards were part of the prize packages for each division’s first place winner. They also received a $100 gift certificate for Zumiez skate shop, located in the Wolfchase Galleria. Second and third place winners were awarded Zumiez gift cards for $50 and $25, respectively.
Zumiez tabled the event and passed out free board wax, skate tools, sunglasses, and chapstick, as well as additional gift cards for door prizes. Assistant Manager Eugine Morgan said it is important to Zumiez to be responsibility members of the community and to help encourage skateboarding as a healthy and positive outlet for kids.
Contact, the planned skate shop inside Society Memphis, sold boards and other supplies and offered expertise on equipment. Owner Zachary Roberts said his favorite part was the boys' ages 8 to 12 division and girls' 8 to 15 division.
“You can just see it’s about fun. Everyone’s dropping in on their belly or sitting down on the board. It’s just fun to watch, and it brings me back to when I was a kid. When you wait all week or all month for that contest on Saturday just to show up and have a good time,” said Roberts.
Surely with Yancey at the helm, next year’s Greenlaw skate program and Mini-Ramp SK8 Jam will be the most anticipated event in Uptown for both kids and adults.