Q + A
IA: What inspired you to first start skating?
Maryama: My younger sister bought a skateboard one summer with allowance money she saved up. Shortly after, I also bought a board for my younger brother as a birthday present since he begged me for it. We would go together to vacant parking lots or the Burke Gilman trail in Seattle- where I watched them cruise around. Being a spectator to their fun warmed my heart as the elder sibling. So by the next summer, I've worked up the courage to try it myself. Skateboarding has been a part of me ever since. It's interesting that both my siblings have since stopped skating- but I still carry on the torch. It has taught me discipline and patience and has empowered me in ways nothing else will come close to doing. So I cherish and hold onto it and hope to keep on cruising until the ailments of old age have the upper hand.
IA: Why do you think there is such lack of diversity in the skating world?
Maryama: I think most people associate the image of the crude white male, who is eternally 13 years old to skateboarders. The culture surrounding it can come across as aggressive and masculine. In essence, it's uninviting by perception. There is certainly verifiable truth to this perception because feeling unwelcomed, due to race, gender, sexuality etc, at a skate park and other places skaters congregate can suck the fun out of the activity. It makes it intimidating and prevents folks from different backgrounds from trying it out. So the diversity issue in skateboarding stems from the activity not having social infrastructure to nurture a safe place for all in its community.
IA: Where are some of the places you've always wanted to skate?
Maryama: Yo, this wish-list is long:
- Bay Area/Pdx/NYC/LA
-Newly added: Addis Ababa
I name all these cities because I know of vibrant communities of lady shredders existing and doing their thing.
IA: What have been some challenges for you as a black/somali/muslim/female skater?
Maryama: I feel I lucked out with the skateboarding community in Seattle. I've been involved with Skate Like A Girl-- a local non profit that works towards establishing the much needed social infrastructure I mentioned in relation to improving diversity by cultivating safe space. They are totally a game-changer in the scene! So interestingly, my experience as a skater has been mostly positive. Just a few turned heads, general astonishment and intrigue at first because I wore hijab back then. A lot of the og's in the community were actually pretty hyped when they started seeing me around at parks. They would give words of encouragement and tips. Giving back to youth and instructing with Skate Like A Girl over the years also means there will be a crop of skaters in the city who can say they got into skating because a black, Somali-Oromo, Muslim, female skater taught them! How cool is that? Although there has been resistance from parents in our Somali community, I am more positively received now. For example, I had the pleasure of meeting a Somali family last summer, who committed to bringing their two daughters to the park every Sunday to take advantage of the class I was instructing. I'm talking about a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother rooting the two girls on. They warmly received me and they were surprised that I've been at for a few years. My own parents are also on board finally because they have some understanding of how far-reaching my involvement is.
IA: What do you think it will take to get more Somali girls or young girls of color interested in something like skateboarding?
Maryama: From my own experience, most Somali girls or girls of color I meet have an interest in skateboarding that never actualizes. The first impediment to this dream is having access to a board or the means to get one. Secondly, depending on family background or influence of surrounding environs, some girls might be inculcated with the inferiority of their existence- ex. What activities are right for a woman, etc. Mainly, it is psychological impediment; a perpetual state of hopelessness, where their interests grow into unreachable endeavors due to fear of disrespecting their parents. I believe in "leading by example" and being involved with organizations like Skate Like A Girl has allowed me to be that kind of influencer. I know for sure that if I'd known of a skater that I could relate to, I would have gotten into skateboarding a lot earlier.
IA: What is your advice for a young girl who thinks skating is interesting but is too intimidated to start?
Maryama: Take it slow and have fun! As you can see from the video, I'm not the greatest and I'm only slightly better now (laughs).
Skating is what you make it to be. You can either strive to be the next pro-skater, attempting impressive tricks or you simply get a kick out of cruising through the city. It might seem intimidating at first, but remember it's a progressive skill that is gained. Just dedicate some time and in no time you'll be a shredding machine! Going to a skate park is not super imperative in the beginning- you just need flat ground. But if you're inclined, I have found that early mornings between 9-11am are the best times to go if you want that experience early on. Also, invest in your first board by finding your local skate shop. Those folks will be helpful and will lead you in the right direction. If you can't afford a board, Skate like A Girl operates in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. They offer free gear and affordable classes (free during the summer, $5 in the winter). There are also similar organizations exist in SoCal, the east coast, Vancouver, Montreal, London, and Stockholm.
Maryama Jilo is a skateboarder of Somali and Oromo heritage residing in Seattle, WA.
Photo credit to Hollyanne S. Faber.
Film by Katie Killeen and Doran McBride.
Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad