Planting the Positive Seeds of Skateboarding: Concrete Jungle Foundation in Jamaica
Words by Troy Björkman
Photography by Concrete Jungle Foundation
Skateboarding can certainly be a lot of things. For most of us, it might be that constant variable that’s always just been there, guiding our way through life. A collective path of exploration, or a sense of meaning in a world seemingly void of it. But for those growing up with unpaved roads and a lack of access it may be a different thing entirely. A getaway from societal disorder or a tool for self-improvement. A dream of a route through life with marble flatground. No matter one’s background though, it’s definitely a family, and a global one at that. And that’s where we come in.
Concrete Jungle Foundation is an international non-profit organisation that builds skateparks and provides youth programmes to underprivileged communities around the world. And while the parks are typically what gets attention, it’s worth underlining that this is only the first step in our approach. We construct skateparks, yes. But through local youth programmes, apprenticeships and employment opportunities we build local capacity.
With that said let’s dive in. Here’s a look into the continuously unfolding story of the Freedom Skatepark Project in Jamaica.
Laying the groundwork
The quest to build Kingston’s first park got its start long before Concrete Jungle Foundation jumped on the train. The local @sk876_ crew had been calling on their government for a park for years, while building the Gully DIY. And UK charity Flipping Youth played a massive role in rallying support from local companies like Seprod, Sandals and Tmrw Tday, as well as getting Vans and Supreme on board for the youth centre to be built at the park.
We were invited to take on skatepark fundraising, construction and programming in late 2018. This budget was set at $130,000 and we started fundraising internationally. Finding the funds took 15 months, but we got there in the end. Massive thanks to everyone who bought a board, hosted an event or donated to the cause that year. And special shout out to The Skateroom and New Line Skateparks who came through in a big way.
Some 25 international volunteers and dozens of locals built the park in March-April 2020, smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Six of the locals took part in our construction apprenticeship programme, earning a living wage while learning the building process from A to Z. This was the first time we implemented this apprenticeship structure and the reception far exceeded our expectations. If you’d like to hear one local’s experience as an apprentice make sure to read Kayla Wheeler’s piece on our site.
Ensuring social impact
Providing youth-centred recreational space for marginalised areas can have a huge potential impact on communities, and it is an established fact that skateboarding can serve as a powerful tool for self-development, especially for marginalised youth. For us, however, construction is only the beginning. In our view, if you really want a project to have a sustained social and economic impact, it needs to provide more than a slab of concrete. Jamaica has the third highest murder rate in the world, mainly committed by youth. While a skatepark might help by giving kids something to do, it is our ongoing provision of programmes, community activities and employment opportunities that actively counteracts these societal issues.
In three months of active programming in Jamaica we’ve lent out boards for over 1000 sessions and provided our youth development programme to 129 kids. Through the programme we focus on developing life skills like perseverance, self-confidence, creativity and social relatedness, tying group discussions with skate sessions to explore a new theme each week. We also run workshops, contests and excursions, giving children the chance to become the best versions of themselves, both on and off the board.
For adolescents and young adults, we not only provide project-based apprenticeships but ongoing employment opportunities as well. Currently we employ 9 local youth at the park in Jamaica, allowing them to earn a wage while developing professional skills in areas such as project management, teaching, volunteer coordination, design and photo and media production – all through skateboarding.
Over 5 years, the idea is that this provision of youth programmes, workshops, apprenticeships and employment opportunities will build up the local capacity for the skatepark and youth centre to become completely locally driven and self-sustaining. And this is the win-win. On the one hand, this means that the skate scene truly develops into something proper, setting the groundwork for further opportunities to develop around it. But additionally, this approach in turn also allows us to free up staff and resources to take on a new project every few years. In Peru, where we’ve been active since 2017, this process is already well under way, where the team of locals manage virtually all aspects of their own branch of Concrete Jungle Foundation: CJF Peru.
Of course, this long-term, cyclical project approach to build up local skills and capacity isn’t free, and as a non-profit organisation we rely on donations to sustain it. Big love to Thank You Skate Co. who’s been helping us cover part of the initial costs of running the Jamaica park and project through their One Love collection. If you have the means or interest to help out you can consider joining Concrete Jungle Family – our monthly donation programme. It’s the best way to ensure sustainability in the work we do.
Looking ahead, getting involved
Our work in Jamaica continues to grow in participation and scope. This season, in addition to our regular offering, we’re piloting a new homework programme for the kids, and we’ve got a new entrepreneurship programme in the works too.
If you’d like to get involved in Jamaica, please consider joining the project as a volunteer or intern. International volunteer participation is crucial not only to help out with running programmes but also to create international connections for the local skate community. And spending a few months helping out at a 1,300m² park in the Caribbean is in itself a pretty amazing experience.
Due to Covid-19 we weren’t allowed to host the opening party we usually do at new parks, so we’ve decided to organise a massive 1-Year Anniversary Party in April 2021 instead. Keep your eyes peeled. It’s gonna be a banger!
A final massive thanks to everyone who has been a part of this journey so far. It’s been a trip. Most things worth doing require time commitment, hard work and good people. And as a charity, we depend on the global community to get shit done. If you’re keen to get involved, do get in touch. You can help out at a project or from home. And we’ve got new projects on the horizon too…
Teamwork makes the dream work.
A useful resource if you’re interested in finding out more about this project is our friend Lisa Jacob’s Forever Playground, which is a platform dedicated to promoting all the skate-related social projects taking place across the globe.
Read their interview with Tim van Asdonck (who’s been running the Concrete Jungle Foundation Edu-Skate program in Kingston) HERE
Read their piece about The Wave HERE