My friend Arlan Hamilton, once said, “Be yourself so that the people who are looking for you can find you.”
I think there’s probably no shortage of relevant quotes on this topic because of their inherent truth. To illustrate further, I’d like to share a personal story about roller skating.
“Skate Free or Die,” was the lifelong motto of Donn, a dear member of our San Francisco roller skating community. Sadly, as of 2016, he is no longer with us. Considering our ages and backgrounds, we became unlikely friends. Donn once shared this story with me about a time that he was recovering from a spinal injury. Perhaps enough time has passed that it would be ok to share with you now in his honor.
“One night, about 3 years ago … I showed up at Redwood City Skate. I was fresh off of a spinal injury that left me permanently without feeling in my left leg and foot. I could barely still roll – but I had not given up hope. I was struggling to skate that night … until I noticed you in the middle towards one end – doing your thing. And I thought – she’d never believe me if I told her I used to be able to skate (something) like that! But watching you made those ‘feelings’ come alive again – I could ‘feel’ what it felt like to skate that way … and wanted to do it again, no matter what. Quite the inspiration – you were certainly that night.
Look at me now – and all that I have regained since that night … and tell me: how does one repay that kind of debt? I owe you something that will be difficult to ever repay directly.
So … please forgive me for treating you like family – I consider you my Sister. And thank you for being you!”
Over next few years Donn attended more skate parties and put in more skate party miles than I ever have. You could always find him smiling and in the groove wherever there was skating.
In as much as I had inspired him, he had just given me this enormous gift that I will never forget. It’s one of the things that drives me to share my love of skating with others. Skating is a positive force, with the ability to create friendship, love and healing.
This #BlackHistoryMonth we’ll be taking a look at the African-American pioneers and champions of modern popular skating! These are the people that brought the style and the flavor to traditional roller skating, and made it COOL. As roller skate dancing regains popularity, it’s important to honor its cultural origins and to share these stories as they are often overlooked by the media. Here are a few notable names and faces as a starting point. (Full descriptions after the photo gallery.)
Bill “Jamma” Butler This is no ordinary skater. When people were rolling to organ music in the 40’s, Bill Butler is the man that brought the funk and jazz to skating in Detroit and then most famously in New York. His artistry, skill and style inspired many of the popular incarnations of roller skate dance that exist today.
Michael Johnson A protege of Bill Butler and a star in his own right. The late Michael Johnson is probably best known for being Bow Wow’s skate double in “Roll Bounce.” Spend some time on YouTube searching for some of his performances, you won’t be sorry.
Calvin Small – Chicago He is one of the original creators of the moves and style that would come to be known as the popular “JB Style”
Empire Roller Rink, Brooklyn, NewYork Famously known as the birthplace of “Roller Disco.” The pioneers of the region’s skate style would change the focus of the music from the melody, to the GROOVE. Dancing on skates would never be the same! Unfortunately, Empire closed it’s doors after 66 years in 2007 and the building now sits dormant as a storage facility.
Edna Davoll – East Coast Matriarch Edna Davoll caught the attention of the media after she went viral roller skating on her 81st birthday, but she has been a main staple of the East Coast skate community for decades. Known as the matriarch of the East Coast skate community, Edna started skating at 45 and is still rolling strong into her 80’s! She continues to inspire us all!
“Rockin” Richard Houston A world-renowned skater, retired postman and Air Force vet out of Detroit. He just released a book entitled “The Motown Sound on Wheels”, chronicling the pioneering skate community and his life in the rinks of Detroit and beyond. “Rockin” Richard Houston gave the Gong Show a taste of that #Detroit seasoning back in the 1970’s. Watch Richard dazzle the judges to unanimous perfect 10 scores!
David Miles Jr. – San Francisco’s Godfather of Roller Skating While rinks are closing down across America, San Francisco’s Godfather of Skate, David Miles Jr. finds new ways to bring skating to the people. Whether indoors or outdoors, D has worked tirelessly with local community leaders for 40 years to make sure skaters have a place to skate and a funky good time doing it!
Before the Church of 8 Wheels dominated the San Francisco weekend nightlife, David Miles was a force for skaters outdoors at Golden Gate Park, heading up the Skate Patrol to help others. He also stood up to local government when the community tried to push skaters out and tried to regulate their music, etc. He helped get smooth, recreational pavement installed and a safe, traffic-free environment for skaters. Although we have lost many of our rinks, San Francisco skaters can still enjoy a healthy lifestyle through roller skating thanks to the tireless advocacy work of David Miles Jr.
DJ “Big Bob” Clayton New York’s legendary skate DJ. Starting in 1980, Clayton would provide the groove for thousands of roller skaters at Empire until its closure in 2007. Clayton still DJ’s for adult skate jams across the country. One of the best to EVER do it.
Skateland U.S.A. Compton The roller rink that helped launched the careers of legendary R&B/Hip-Hop acts like N.W.A., Eric B and Rakim, Queen Latifah, and New Edition. Skateland USA Compton was a refuge for many young people as well as an important concert venue opportunity for hip-hop when other venues pushed it away.
Richard Humphrey “Rollerdance Man” Known as the “Father of Rollerdance.” Richard is a renowned instructor, performer and inventor, featured on TV and in print. Richard choreographed many of the classic line dance steps that are still popular today. He has wowed thousands of spectators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with his original skate crew, The Golden Rollers and even by himself still today!! He also partnered with Riedell to create the innovative “No Strings Attached” skate boot. He continues to teach weekly classes in San Francisco.
Joi Loftin “Joi’s Skate-a-Thon” If you’ve been roller skating for long, you know that the “Super Bowl” of annual skate parties is “Joi’s Skate-a-thon” in Atlanta, Georgia. Held annually since 1995, (with the exception of 2020, due to Co-vid19) Skate-a-thon is the place to be to see the best roller skaters from all over the world! I don’t know the entire origin story of this incredible and historic event, but Joi is included here as a skate legend because the work it takes to put this event on year after year is nothing short of super-heroic, and the experiences I’ve had there are priceless. Visit:www.joisk8athon.com
Explore the entire collection of roller skating themed designs at the Roll With Soul® Shop All designs available to customize on various styles and colors! (Make sure to join my Instagram page, to receive news on sales and discount codes!)
So happy to see that community leaders are supporting this. Too often I’ve seen skaters shooed out of public parks and recreation areas just for trying to exercise the way they choose.
Why do cities prioritize space for tennis courts for a chosen few, when we could invest in multi-purpose areas for more varied interests and serve more of the community?
Now that more skaters are having to roll outside, due to the Co-vid19 pandemic, conversations with our community leaders and park officials are going to be very important. Skaters are going to need to coordinate and show up in numbers so that we can’t be ignored.
A few years ago, I interviewed one of the most successful community advocates for outdoor roller skating. David Miles Jr., San Francisco’s “Godfather of Skate.” Over the last 40 years, he has developed a very vibrant and successful skate community producing over 2000 skate events, many which have been featured in national magazines including Sports Illustrated and on the front page of newspapers throughout the country.
Since arriving in California from Kansas City in 1979, D has developed great working relationships with the local government in the city and county of San Francisco to create a positive image for skaters and help implement laws that benefit skaters.
Here again are his thoughts on how to start, and grow a thriving outdoor skating community in your city!
David Miles Jr. is the owner of the Church of 8 Wheels, San Francisco, CA. Since co-vid shut down his rink, he recently added an online skate shop offering official Church of 8 Wheels skates, wheels and accessories.
The recent rash of headlines touting the new “TikTok roller skating trend” reminded me a lot about why I started my website and social media pages back in 2014.
I was struck by how often media coverage on roller skating was centered around white women in some strange, exclusionary form of “girl power.” I had been an avid roller skater for nearly 5 years by then. Although I am white, I didn’t look like that, and neither did the people I skated with. My intention was to use my privilege to amplify those who weren’t being seen.
Many of these articles centered skating around white influencers and erased the African-American communities that have been nurturing and elevating this activity for decades.
On top of that, some were quick to capitalize; positioning themselves as the gatekeepers of some skating “revival.” Never turning down the spotlight, they could be seen taking credit for, and profiting from, dances and skills they took from the culture, but did not create.
Both types of passive and active whitewashing send the unfortunate message that black skaters and their beloved activity didn’t really matter until white people discovered it. It also prevents black talent from receiving any media recognition or compensation.
Despite black skaters’ apparent erasure from the press, they have had some of the most significant impact on our culture.
If it wasn’t for a black man, Bill Butler, we’d all likely still be skating to organ music at the local rink.
Since Co-vid19, many skaters are just now discovering quad skating outdoors. However, one of the countries’ longest-running advocates for outdoor roller skating is a black man, David Miles Jr. out of San Francisco, CA.
Even the film makers of the 2018 HBO documentary “United Skates” embarked on their original journey thinking that roller skating was dying off with the last of the original New York “roller disco” skaters. They soon learned that there was a whole vibrant movement of adult roller skating they’d never heard of. To their credit, they worked tirelessly with those skaters for over 5 years to get their story told on a bigger scale.
Prior to that, Tyrone Dixon released his independent documentary, “8 Wheels and some Soul Brotha Music” in 2004 to critical acclaim. Without these films, the media has virtually ignored black roller skating culture.
In an attempt to course correct, some authors have recently taken up the cause to remind people how the roots of modern skating stem from the civil rights movement. While skating does indeed bears roots in the struggle of racism, we must not overlook the positive and joyful contributions the black community has made to modern skating culture.
When the media continues to portray skaters as majority white, retro, eye candy, or conversely when black skaters are only represented by their racial trauma, they are missing out on the cutting edge of music, dance, fashion, style, etc.
This is a vibrant and important culture still fighting racist policies, continued gentrification, and historical erasure. Black skaters deserve to have their contributions acknowledged, respected and appreciated at the forefront of cultural conversations, not as a footnote.
Dear Members of the San Francisco Planning Committee,
I’m writing in regards to the proposed plans for 554 Fillmore, currently operating as The Church of 8 Wheels.
I think we’re all well aware of the struggle for affordable housing in the city. However, it seems that this developer seeks to use the housing scarcity to their own benefit, not that of the SF community and its residents.
My concern lies with the fact that the owner/developer purchased the land and building at 554 Fillmore with the full knowledge of the historical value and structural requirements of the former Sacred Heart Church, but now wants the rules to be changed in favor of their development.
What message would a committee approval send to other developers? Do we want to set the precedent that rules and regulations really don’t mean anything so long as the promise is large enough?
If these variances are allowed, a mere 36 people will be able to utilize this building. This limits housing benefits to a few, while separating thousands from the human benefits of health, fitness, connection and fellowship that recreational activities provide to its communities.
The Church of 8 Wheels is also a highly visible positive tourist attraction for San Francisco, frequently featured in airports and in-flight media. However, a new techie dorm crammed with people with no exposure to natural light or air is likely to attract a different kind of attention, a PR nightmare for the city.
So let me ask you, is 36 larger than THOUSANDS? If you ask me, that math just doesn’t add up.
I am asking that the city reject these variances in accord with keeping the best interests of ALL of San Francisco residents in mind, not just a few.
We had so much fun doing the Janet Jackson Roller Disco tribute a few years ago, the folks at The Church of 8 Wheels have graciously let me take over the booth for another great theme night! MOTOWN.
Just on the tail of #BlackHistoryMonth, we’ll be celebrating the 60 year anniversary of the Motown sound – on wheels!
Detroit is one of the original birthplaces of modern “dance skating” and is also the home of “Soul Skate,” one of the biggest, national adult skate jams.
Early Detroit skaters had to fight segregation during the civil-rights era, but once they were allowed in, they changed the game! Thanks to pioneering skaters like Bill Butler, who brought their jazz records to the rink, we have the modern flavor and styles that we all enjoy today!
Come down and enjoy 4 hours of great Motown hits plus lots of classic R&B, Soul & Funk to skate to!
Tune in to HBO February 18th at 8 p.m. ET/PT and immerse yourself in an incredible skating world many never knew existed!!
United Skates spotlights a community of thousands who fight in a racially charged environment to save the underground African-American subculture of roller skating. It’s a world that has been overlooked by the mainstream for generations while giving rise to great musical talents.
Directed and produced by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown, United Skates received the Documentary Audience Award at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival among dozens of other awards.
Rolling Stone online just shared an intriguing new trailer for the film! WATCH HERE
For any skaters who also like gaming, The Sims 4 + Seasons Expansion pack offers your Sims the joy of roller skating (and ice skating)!
I decided to create a “White Chocolate” Sim, and it turns out, she’s a better skater than me!
The United Skates Documentary is finally coming to the Bay Area! SF Doc Stories 2018 has chosen to showcase the film at this year’s film festival!
Come and see the film, and bring friends and family so they too can learn about this amazing art form and community!
November 4, 2018, 4:30 p.m
SFMOMA – Wattis Theater
151 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94103