Meet Chicago's non-traditional skate community.

OnWord Skate Collective is creating a space to empower and strength Chicao's non-traditional skate community, centering women, TGNC, LGBTQ+, young & old skaters. Read more about the folks who make up this collective to hear their stories and impact.
 
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
 

Cath: I am a current senior at DePaul University studying Urban Planning & Development. I’m originally from Maryland (right near DC) and picked up skateboarding on the East Coast. When I moved to Chicago, I lost my community of skaters, and stopped skateboarding. I later picked up roller skating and began playing & training with Windy City Rollers roller derby. I am the roller skater within the co-founders of OnWord (or at least was- they’re all learning now!), and take on a handful of different roles for the collective; social media, reaching out to brands and organizations, recruitment, event planning, and most often- internal organizational tasks like conflict resolution/transformation, helping to manage our structural makeup, and improving/refining our mission/goals. I’m passionate about getting women & members of the LGBTQ+ community involved in sports that are typically male & cisgender dominated. Nothing has empowered me more than pushing my body and knowing it’s strength- I love guiding others in figuring out what empowers them as well.

Deb: My background is in social work and currently I work in State government on early childhood policies and systems. I live in Logan Square, Chicago, but also lived and have special love for Bridgeport. My passions include Asian American and immigrant mental health as well as convincing ‘older’ folks to start skating (it’s never too late!).

Bridget: I am a filmmaker and content creator who creates inclusive thought-provoking content that inspires others to follow their dreams. I am the founder of a Chicago-based production company called Dare to Dream Productions. I started skateboarding when I was twelve but stopped after falling really bad. At the time there were very few girls who skated where we could have supported each other, so I stopped for a while. But I didn’t give up. Years later Lid (one of the founders) inspired me to get back into my childhood passion. I’m grateful for them getting me back into it and introducing me to the skating community in Chicago. I’m working on building my production company and getting my first feature film funded. I’m excited for the future!  

T: I am an activist, college instructor, and PhD student at the University of Chicago. My academic interests include studying the ways in which Black women and gender nonconforming folks think about and work towards liberation. My Bachelor's degree (LSU) and Master’s degree are in Political Science. As an abolitionist and activist, I am committed to the liberation of ALL Black people across the diaspora. I approach life and activism through Black Queer Feminist praxis, which means that I work to center the lives and experiences of the most marginalized members of society. I have a passion for music, sports, and fashion. I am in the process of launching a brand called artsy boi (@artsyboi.complex), where I create hoodies and beanies centered around GNC and LGBTQ+ experiences.

Lid: I’m an architectural designer and a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I studied Architecture and Art. I’m originally from Spain, and at the age of 5, I moved to Chicago. I have a passion for leading creative projects that highlight marginalized voices. I also have a passion for skatepark design, socially engaged projects like Borderless Studio’s Creative Grounds (https://www.creativegrounds.org/), and traveling. I’m inspired by the principles of community-led design, activism, skateboarding, and DIY culture. In my projects, I aspire to design and activate spaces for the visibility, safety, and amplification of marginalized voices. These past couple of years I’ve directed an initiative with my team of IIT and SAIC architecture students, called Mapping Minority Architecture Projects (https://www.i-noma.org/mmap), originally started by the Illinois chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

Q: So much of our company is rooted in the re—inc founders' own quest to reimagine norms and barriers society has placed on us. What do you want to reimagine in the world?
 
Cath: I have had the immense privilege to be able to defy societal norms and root my life in my own values through my young adult life. As a queer & femme person, I center radical love and acceptance to the best of my ability whenever possible. My work in college has been focused on transformation, abolition, accessibility & skewing how we perceive conflict. I could not have done this without the queer community I surround myself with- whether that be my friends, partner, or collective members. This collective has allowed me to be a small part of changing how we move through our daily lives, and allowed for me to continue growing out of the norms and expectations that continue to follow femme people today.
 

Deb: In the public imagination, Asian American women are racialized, gendered, and sexualized as passive and subservient; tokenized in diversity initiatives; and more often than not, rendered nonexistent or invisible to begin with. For me, being my fullest self by staying connected and true to who I am, my identities, community, and history from a place of joy, self-love, and pride is an act of defiance. This helps me to build immunity against internalizing different isms, protect my energy from acting from a reactionary place, and move through the world in an impactful way that changes people’s preconceived ideas of who I am.

Bridget: I grew up dreaming of being a filmmaker but struggled finding a role model to look up to. In the mainstream media, there were no lesbian directors I could follow yet alone queer characters on Disney channel to relate to. So, I created my own representation. As a teen, I basically came out to my entire church and family through a silent romance short I made called The Girl at the Library. I discovered community through YouTube and meeting other queer folks at college since growing up I was one of the only out queer people in my high school. Authenticity and vulnerability through my creative expression is how I defy norms. Stay true to yourself and always trust your intuition. I want to be that role model for queer youth that I never had.  

T: Like I stated earlier, I approach life, activism, and organzing through a lens of Black Queer Feminsm. This means that I am committed to interrogating and deconstructing normative and oppressive systems of power. The historical subordination and political othering of particular identities has relegated certain communities to the margins of society. By queering my vision of the world, I build from a long lineage of radicalism that envisions a world in which all people can experience freedom. My queerness is not merely a descriptor of my sexual identity. Rather, it is a political orientation in which I reimagine the hegemonic norms of society that have labeled marginal communities as “other”. This reimagination is both theoretical and pragmatic in the sense that we must engage in both meaning-making and tangible world re-building.

Lid: I’ve found that reimagining norms and barriers society has placed on us is SUCH a privilege. Many of us around the world don’t feel the safety, whether it’s legally or personally, to be —(or do)— different(ly). I’m a person that’s fueled by proving close-minded people wrong through real-life examples. At the same time, I’m grateful to feel safe and supported enough to do so. For the longest time, I’ve heard “you can’t be an architect” or “you can’t pick up skateboarding” or “you can’t work in the woodshop or metal shop” and whenever I’d ask why, they’d say things like “…because you’re not a man, and that’s for men. Men have better bodies for it, better smarts. Men are built for that, not you. Do something else.” So I’d agree to disagree and look at where I’m going now. Look at where many incredible skaters like Alexis Sablone, Sky Brown, Jenn Soto, and Beatrice Domond are. Look at where remarkable architects like Carol Ross Barney, Tatiana Bilbao, and Nathalie de Vries are. Nothing stopped them. And nothing will stop us.

Q: Where did the idea for creating OnWord Skate Collective come from?
 
Lid: OnWord grew from something we felt was needed in the skateboarding community: representation, knowledge around skatepark designing and building, mentorship, and safe spaces for non-traditional skaters. Skateparks and skateboarding have, since their inception, been dominated by the presence of men. Something I challenge everyone to question is: who was your skatepark built by? Who was it designed by? Something you probably won’t be shocked to find is that 99% of the time, it has been built, designed, and led by a group of men. Challenging this was the first step because skateparks lack representation and oftentimes are not safe spaces for non-traditional skaters. Beyond that, I noticed a lack of mentorship and skill-building opportunities for the non-traditional skate community around skatepark design and construction. So we took action. In May 2021, we designed and built Chicago’s first DIY mobile pop-up skatepark, all thanks to a grant I received from my university (SAIC) called the Idea Generation Grant and the incredible people who believed in our mission and donated to our GoFundMe page.

"For me, being my fullest self by staying connected and true to who I am, my identities, community, and history from a place of joy, self-love, and pride is an act of defiance."
- Deb

 
Q: Here at re—inc, it’s our belief that inner peace and wellbeing offer the nourishment and strength to persevere. How do you nourish yourself or cultivate self-love and inner peace ?
 

Cath: This is always a work in progress for me. Being alone and recharging, listening to music, working out, taking a bath, and eating a good, home cooked meal are all one facet of finding self-love and peace for me. However, things like therapy, having hard conversations, drawing boundaries, and dealing with conflict in ways that align with values also contributes to my self-love, self-respect, and inner peace. So, there’s my self-care stuff, and the hard, sometimes messy stuff- both important, and both huge in my life.

Deb: Taking a bath with Inoki Bathhouse, which focuses on baths as a form of therapy. Their products include tea, flowers, and coconut milk along with a relaxing playlist and candles. I discovered them by watching a video by the founder Helen Yin, which featured her beautiful bath experience while sharing her story of being a child of immigrants and her path to healing and recovery. It really spoke and resonated with me in a deep way, especially in the midst of COVID, the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, and the murder of eight lives, mostly Asian American women, in the Atlanta shooting.

Bridget: I think peace and well-being all begins within. Start to examine how you talk to yourself & others, what your boundaries are, and your mindset will entirely change. Meditation is one way that helps me ground myself for the start of the day and helps me unwind at the end of the day. Journaling helps me get my thoughts out and provides me with a lot of clarity. Peace is surrounding yourself with positive souls where you both lift each other up and strive to help one another become the best you.

T: I cultivate self-love and nourish myself through music and sports. I have taught myself how to produce music and have dedicated a lot of time to playing sports and skateboarding. There aren’t many times that you’ll catch me not wearing headphones and I make playlists for my friends in my spare time. As someone who has deeply struggled with mental health, I have come to understand the importance of listening to my body and engaging in things that bring me joy. I also find that a great way to develop inner peace is to check on my friends and encourage them to care for themselves as well. Healing and happiness are often achieved through community, so I try my best to not only love others but encourage them to love themselves as well.

Lid: One of the things the pandemic has taught me is that slowing down does not mean stopping and breaks are important. Also, the kindness, care, and love we show to others, we must also show to ourselves. I like to redefine inner peace by remembering that we can’t change what others do, but we can change how we react to things. I also like starting my days by naming a few things I’m grateful for. It’s a refreshing reminder that everything we have shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Follow OnWord Skate Collective's journey on instagram @onwordskateco. Support their work https://linktr.ee/OnWordSkateCo . How do you boldly reimagine?