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Local resident Keri Garnett adamantly believes that unless the core of an issue is addressed, it will likely never improve. That perspective has been held for as long as Garnett can remember. Enhancing relationships between different communities and addressing racial injustices in a proactive way are matters that she passionately believes in.
Garnett, the Executive Director of the Roanoke Skatepark Initiative, and some friends recently created Rolling for Reform, a first-time event created to give the skate community an opportunity to stand in unison with the Black Lives Matter movement.
When it came time to pick a location for the July 12 event, Garnett already had a site in mind. Due to its centralized offering and skate ability, Elmwood Park ended up being the chosen destination. The event’s five organizers – Garnett, Kiesha Preston, Hillery King, Angie Gray and Iris Park – said planning took roughly three weeks.
People started arriving around 2 p.m. Once the organizers addressed all in attendance, participants assembled their bikes and skates and made their way through downtown Roanoke. The gathering concluded at the Flying Panther Skate Shop where a community celebration quickly followed.
While not a skater herself, Preston has always respected what the skate culture represents. “It is all about recognizing and appreciating each other’s differences instead of being afraid of them. Also, being willing to step outside of your comfort zone to engage with people you otherwise might not have engaged with,” she said.
Skateboarders, said Garnett, are no strangers to police harassment, especially those of color. She continued, “You would struggle to find a skater who hasn’t had negative contact with police officers in our community and beyond, so this was certainly a way the skate community could join the movement in solidarity against something they’ve experienced as well, on a much smaller scale.”
Local police officers were present and participated in Sunday’s event. Policemen could be seen giving protestors a high-five and sharing a laugh together. If we don’t create opportunities for the police and community to come together, Park said, we will never make genuine progress.
She added, “Our voices are being heard throughout this movement and events like this continue that momentum. Now that the door is open to having these discussions about systemic racism and police brutality, we need to continue to move forward, find solutions, make this a collaborative effort and don’t let it fizzle out.”
Salem native Roger Anderson, 49, fully supports events like Rolling for Reform. Anderson, who has lived in the Roanoke Valley nearly his whole life, noted that his opinion of the police today is the same as it was during his teenage years.
“I never understood the logic of generalizing an entire community off of a small percentage of rogue individuals. Most cops are committed to making a difference in the community,” he said. “Most Black Lives Matter supporters are simply advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against preventable incidents that happen too often to African-Americans. True progress will never happen until that is realized on both sides.”
Restoring trust between the police and some in the community will not happen overnight. It will likely be a long, arduous journey. Last Sunday’s Rolling for Reform event, by all accounts, was a massive step towards that accomplishment.