The organization froSkatewhich hosts skate park meet-ups for the "non-traditional skate community"launched in spring 2019 after a group chat of BIPOC queer skateboarders "got too big," according to founder Karlie Thornton.
"It was just that the community really needed this kind of space," Thornton said. "I started to skate in 2019 and really just wanted friends and people who looked like me to skate with, so that I didn't feel alone or uncomfortable being the only girl."
The "bread and butter" of the group is meeting up to skate. BIPOC, queer and femme skaters of all skill levels meet at various parks around the city twice a month, both to practice tricks together and get to know each other. No experience is required to attend.
"It's just such a jam, you roll up and everyone just looks so cool," Thornton explained. "I always say you're guaranteed to make at least one or two new friends. It's something you can come alone to. I take a lot of pride in making sure people feel included because a lot of us are shy and battling nervousness ourselves."
Thornton's background in community organizing and entrepreneurship helped her to get things off the ground, but she said the group "grew rapidly" because there was such a desire for this sort of space, which didn't exist in Chicago.
In addition to meetups, froSkate donates skateboards and other equipment to people who can't afford them. The group also participates in food and supply drives on the South Side and speaks on panels about racism and other issues facing the city, among other activist efforts.
"We really want to create a community space and that oftentimes goes beyond just showing up and skating together," Thornton said. "We definitely want to make sure our community has what they need in terms of skateboarding resources, especially since one of the biggest barriers for getting more Black and Brown people into skating is the cost of it."
Though the group started with just a few friends and their boards, froSkate meetups currently average 25 to 30 people. At their last meetup of the season, over 100 people showed up. The organization's Instagram account, where information about upcoming events is shared, has more than 15,000 followers.
"It's hard to say [how many people are involved] because there's no pressure to show up to every meetup," Thornton said. "A lot of times we see familiar faces at meetups and we also see a lot of new faces each time."
Jasmine Parks, a musician and froSkate's executive assistant, explained that learning to "take up space" became easier when she started spending time skating with people who looked like her.
Parks started skateboarding as a means of transportation but said it has become much more for her since she got involved with froSkate. At meetups, she prioritizes learning, whether that means landing new tricks or "becoming a better person," Parks said.
"At one point, I was so scared of my skateboard, like it was bigger than me, but I had to have a moment with myself to realize I have to overcome those fears," she explained. "To have people around me who are also overcoming those fears, who are falling and laughing and shaking it off, that's even more encouragement to keep going."
Parks' favorite parts of the meetups are when everyone lines up to try a trick together.
"It's like, everyone sees someone and thinks, 'Oh, that's cool, I bet I could do that,'" Parks said. "Having a line of five or six people back to back to back trying a trick until we all hit it is my favorite part because we're all just trying to encourage each other."
Thornton agreed and said she loves when people are trying things outside of their comfort zone, because they feel supported and are then able to "learn and grow from that moment." For example, at a recent meetup, several skaters tried a "rock to fakie" which is a trick where you go up a ramp, hit the top and come right back down.
"For some people, it was a trick they wouldn't even think about trying, but they tried it," Thornton said. "And quite a few of them actually made it or at least now know what to work on more. But they wouldn't have ever tried it if we weren't all there, pushing them."
Thornton emphasized that having a group of similar people creates the necessary, supportive space required for learning any new skill.
"If you're in a room of people who don't look like you, it's uncomfortable and you feel nervous," she said. "It's important to have these spaces where people feel comfortable enough to learn and to fall so people can take that with them when they go skate on their own."
Even for seasoned skaters, "sometimes it's just nice to skate with a whole bunch of Black and Brown people," Thornton added.
Those interested in joining can visit www.froskate.com .