Medcalf: Cherishing Sunday Evenings at the Burnsville Rink – A Center of Joy and Inclusion
Last Sunday I skated next to 19-year-old Jeff McCray as he spun to the sound of his AirPods and slipped under the pulsating strobe lights from Skateville to Burnsville, one of the Twin Cities’ last roller rinks. .
Across the rink, his friend, a photographer and DJ named Josh Lemonade, floated along the wall, moving his skates back and forth like a child in socks on the floor of a linoleum kitchen. He perfected his dancing style while in New York City and he can now do things on roller skates that few can perform in shoes.
The two became friends three years ago when they met at Skateville, which offers a multicultural clientele, great music and fun. On the ice, it is equality and diversity that illustrate the possibilities within the Twin Cities.
“By coming here to skate you can still keep your body in shape and then you can meet tons of new people on top of that,” McCray said. “I have met a lot of people who I consider friends and family through the rink.”
Lemonade added, which posts roller skating videos for its more than 3,000 Instagram followers: “It’s a place where you don’t judge. You only have your eight wheels and the ground, so we still hope all the world comes here with a having a good time, having fun, teaching each other things and improving your life. What you learn on your wheels, you can apply to your life. You learn a lot of patience. You learn a lot skills. And it definitely changed my life. “
On Sunday evening, I escape to Skateville with my daughters. Rollerblading is our reset in a hectic week. It’s also a reminder to make room for those lighter moments in our lives. At the rink, our only concern is which song the DJ decides to play next. They always want to hear something from Drake or Lil Nas X – or any trendy song on TikTok. I used to ask for “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang.
As a parent, I look for places in the Twin Cities where they can see other black and brown children smiling and laughing. The roller skating rink never disappoints.
As we skated together last Sunday, a team of black, brown and white teenage girls rushed between the kids in sneakers and the newbies rolling nervously forward. At one point, I seemed to annoy a black girl with braids that squeezed through the other skaters in a space that encouraged her free spirit.
“Every week,” said Naybour Somkhan, 58, from Cambodia. “I come here once or twice a week. I love it. I come here [for the diversity] Sundays.”
Like Somkhan, I always have this feeling of peace at the rink. This is also why I am concerned about the number of rinks that have closed in the Twin Cities and beyond. The culture of roller skating has been ingrained by the African American community across the country. In Milwaukee, my hometown, the rinks provided opportunities to bond and celebrate the artistic vibe created by black people. I tried to pass this on to my children.
Before Skateville I took them to Wooddale Fun Zone in Woodbury. But then it closed during the pandemic. Roller Garden in St. Louis Park, which closed in April, was also a popular spot.
The rink economy is complicated by a world full of video games, streaming and social media for a generation of young people with more home entertainment options than I have ever had. But these spaces are also important for those who have spent the past 18 months trapped in their homes. Our children need these opportunities, especially as winter approaches. Adults too.
But ice rinks across the country have closed at a devastating rate. Financial constraints affected many. The pandemic has only accelerated the decline. Long before this crippling chapter, however, the rinks were affected by the false narrative that a collection of black and brown children socializing in one place is bad for business and the surrounding community. That’s the story told by “United Skates,” a 2019 HBO documentary about the connection between the rinks and the African-American community.
Nonetheless, I am happy that a few roller rinks continue to exist in the Twin Cities. There is unparalleled contagious joy that is spread by stars of the ice rink, like McCray.
Three years ago he got serious about skating, but he didn’t know any tricks, only the basics. So he asked for tips from some of the personalities he would see at the rink. They gave him advice and taught him the movements he uses today.
He cherishes the real bonds and ties he has forged at the rink. And he is not alone.
“A lot of the people I meet, I invite them here,” McCray said. “It’s beautiful to come here and see everyone of all ages, races. Big, small. It doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful to come here and see everyone skating. I’m just mesmerized by watching . Sometimes I’ll just sit there and watch everyone have fun because it’s such a vibe. It gives you positivity. You see other people having fun… it makes me smile. “
Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online.