As roller rinks around the country close left and right due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black skaters are fighting to preserve the sport, which has brought our community good health for generations.
Long before she became the co-owner of Charlotte, North Carolina’s first outdoor skating rink, Brandi Fox was rolling around at spots in her city as a teen.
“Back in the day, early 2000s, we went to the skating rink every weekend — Friday and Saturday,” she told Word In Black in a phone interview. “It was common. It was something that we did. It was kind of like our teen club.”
In those days, Fox’s hometown had at least three rinks that served her community. But over the past decades, they’ve all shut down.
“They were all predominantly minority-based skating rinks, where we would go,” Fox says. “All three of those shut down within the past 20 years. So, there has not been another skating rink in the city of Charlotte within that time period.”
Roller skating as an industry is often hit hard when the economy suffers. Some rinks saw a decline in business during the 2008 Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic was no different.
Several rinks around the country shut their doors due to mandatory closures.
The serial entrepreneur and her co-founders have seen nothing but success since. And while they have plans to open a brick-and-mortar rink in the future, Rollin’ CLT is 100% mobile for now.
“We do different locations. And we host a once-a-month open public skate party. We have a DJ, hookah, bar, food truck, vendors, and anybody that’s 21 and up can come out and skate outdoors. We have a good time,” Fox says.
The outdoor rink brings together “different people, rich, poor, hood, regular, to one place. And everybody is laughing, drinking and having a really good time,” she says.
An added bonus, it supports people who are seeking relief from health challenges.
“In addition to our parties and mobile services, we also do skate lessons and it’s exciting because people are coming in there for health reasons. Cardiovascular, muscle work, flexibility — all the kinds of things that you need. Mental toughness to be able to coordinate your body, to be able to do certain moves,” Fox says.
According to the Roller Skating Association International, skating strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood circulation, and provides a complete workout by engaging all of the body’s muscles.
Skating doesn’t just support heart health, an area where the Black community suffers heavily from disease and mortality. As an aerobic exercise, the sport also aids against anxiety.
“About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects,” the Anxiety & Depression Association of America reports.
This is good news for Black folks who are mentally impacted by various societal issues, such as systemic racism. Data from a 2018 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed 16% — or 4.8 million — Black people reported having a mental illness.
Rollin’ CLT is among a group of Black-owned skating rinks around the country that make it possible for folks to skate into good health. RollerCade in Detroit, Michigan; The People’s Rink in Houston; and Zone One Entertainment Complex in Buffalo, New York, are also open to skate lovers.
But lacing up a pair of skates and hitting “the wood” at an indoor rink wasn’t always this easy.
During segregation, we could only skate indoors for one night a week on “Black Night,” or more affectionately, “Soul Night” or “Martin Luther King Night.” So, not only did we take the sport outdoors to parks and beaches, but we also protested racism on wheels.
A man named Ledger “Roller Man” Smith traveled 685 miles on skates from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to attend the March on Washington and witness Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” on Aug. 29, 1963.
According to an original article from the Baltimore AFRO-American, Smith carried a sign which read “I’m skating to Washington, D.C, for civil rights, 1963, N.A.A.C.P.”
Rollin’ CLT took skaters back in time recently by hosting a 70s-themed party. Everyone — young and older — was able to enjoy the atmosphere where they skated to music from that era, talked in slang, and wore retro outfits.
Fox said folks who lived and skated during that time had “been waiting on this all our life.”
“Of course, we’re joking, we’re talking like we were in the seventies. So it was a really, really good time for us because it’s like we were literally back in the seventies. Like, you couldn’t tell us we weren’t at no seventies skate club.”
It’s safe to say Rollin’ CLT is continuing a legacy of Black Skating Joy — and they’re already receiving their flowers.
“We got inducted into Black Skating Rink Hall of Fame for being the first Black outdoor skating rink,” Fox says.
Check out our YouTube video “Black Roller Skating Joy: Finding Health and Justice on Wheels” for more information on the benefits of roller skating.