‘Skating saved my life’
Hope springs fresh for youth as park opens in Bull Bay; others being considered
Joshua Mattis believes that the sport of skateboarding has saved his life, offering him an avenue to break free from his abusive past and set him on a course for a brighter future.
“It changed my life a lot because if it wasn’t for it, me woulda underground right now,” he told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
Living in the St Andrew community of Bobo Hill in Nine Miles, Bull Bay, life was not easy, Mattis explained.
He said that the garrison was not a safe space and that this, coupled with his experiences of abuse as a child, made him feel as though there was no hope left for him.
But when he journeyed to the Wickie Wackie skate gully, he found a passion for skating, which has helped in redirecting his path.
This, he explained, has become a safe haven and caused him to regain a sense of hope.
“It show me say me still have hope, life still deh deh fi live, so me just say a this a we dream and a it we a go fa,” he said.
Mattis was one of many youngsters who were present at the grand opening of the Freedom Skatepark at Eight Miles, Bull Bay, on Wednesday.
The Freedom Skatepark was built in April 2020 and was inspired by the heartbreaking story of 20-year-old Andre ‘Wildfiyah’ Thompson, who died tragically as a result of violence in 2009.
Thompson was said to be passionate about youth development and promoting social enterprise within his community, which included writing proposals to local foundations with the hope of raising funds that would help upskill young people.
Dedicated to his memory, the park has become a space for at-risk youth to take part in various community projects and social development programmes while being an avenue for the expression of creativity.
Twenty-one-year-old Mattis said he was appreciative of the sponsors and organisers who made the construction of the park possible as it has allowed not only him but other vulnerable youths to form a community and to be seen for opportunities to come.
“Skating is like you’re going for something ... . It is an opportunity for them. They can learn [and] they can do stuff to release dem mind,” he said.
Mattis, who is also a surfer, said that he has also engaged in teaching kids in the community.
Rémy Walter, founder and director of Jamaica Skate Culture Foundation, told The Gleaner that his intention and that of the other partners is to build more skateparks across Jamaica.
He argued that this could not be the only location for kids to travel from other parishes to visit and engage in the sport.
Walter stated that additional parks could result in the hosting of inter-parish competitions and give youth the opportunity to rack up accolades and win prizes.
He also hopes to develop a mobile skatepark programme, where skating rinks are brought to schools across the island for more children to be exposed to the sport.
“Beyond skateboarding, we try to bring education. We’re trying to build values and respect; we try to teach them something about life, about sharing,” Walter said.
“It’s action time, and the youth of this country need support. They need education because so much violence going on, not only in Jamaica ... . It’s ugly, but what we need to do is to set an example and do our best to try to help those kids to develop into better persons,” he added.
Walter said that he is currently engaging partners in discussions to build a skating rink in Negril.
During the opening ceremony, Alando Terrelonge, minister of state for culture, gender, entertainment, and sport, noted that sport empowers youth and has the ability to make considerably change lives.
“Sports may not be able to solve every single minute detail of crime and violence, but certainly, it is highly effective when used and combined with other holistic interventions and programmes that can influence change and engender hope,” he said.