Youth Radio: Skate Park Bridges Gap Between Police And Skaters

Aug 3, 2015

Peyton Sickles, 17, is a skateboarder, a self-proclaimed "techie" and a rising senior at Apex High School.

Updated September, 19 at 10:30 a.m.

As a part of the WUNC Summer Youth Reporting Institute, Peyton Sickles chose to explore the story behind a new skateboard park that opened in Apex at the beginning of August. For teenagers like Sickles, the new park solves a real problem for young people in his community. Captain Jacques Gilbert of the Apex Police Department is one of the people featured in Sickles' story.

On Monday, Sept. 21, Gilbert will be recognized at the White House as a part of "Champions of Change." The program honors examples of law enforcement connecting with youth in the community. The Apex Police Department is one of seven departments nationwide that will be honored for the program. Listen to the story behind the skate park below:

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night inside of Hope Chapel Church in Apex, NC. There are 40 teenagers with skateboards inside the church, flying across ramps and shredding along rails.

"The more places we can give them to skate, the better," Pastor Jeremy Johnson said.

Johnson started “Skate Church” when he realized Apex had a lot of skateboarders, but nowhere to skate. Every Friday, Johnson and his crew move 500 chairs out of the sanctuary and haul in mobile ramps and rails to set up a temporary indoor skate park from 6-9 p.m.

"Skate Church" gives skaters in Apex somewhere to go on Friday nights. But what about the other six days of the week? They have to find places and teens who try to skate downtown end up getting kicked out.

"It hasn’t gotten to the point where I’ve known any officers names or anything. Like we didn't know each other by name, but I’d recognize people by face," skateboarder Julian Creech-Pritchett, 16, said. "Its happened two times over the past few years. He’s like, 'We’ve already been through this, just get out.'”

The new skatepark opened in Apex the beginning of August
Credit Peyton Sickles / WUNC

Creech-Pritchett lives to skate. He’s had his fair share of run-ins with the police. Like many teen skaters in Apex, he’s become friends with Kyle Dennis. Dennis runs a skate shop in downtown Apex.

"They get kicked out of there, and they go somewhere else and they’d come to my shop and go, 'Well, we’ve been kicked out of the five good places to skate in Apex so we’re going to sit here for the rest of the day,'” Dennis said.

Dennis eventually lost his patience when it came to seeing kids get kicked out of public places.

"They  weren’t hurting anybody. They were just skateboarding, and it got to the point where it was almost on the lines of harassment, not just by police but by older people who don't understand," Dennis said.

Part of the problem is the stereotype that exists about skaters. Captain Jacques Gilbert works for the Apex Police Department.

"When I walk on the scene with this uniform, wearing this badge, it’s already a stereotype that I'm going to be a certain way, that I'm already judged," Gilbert said. "So we kind of share the same thing, when they walk around with their board and their stylish clothes, they’re already judged."

Gilbert, Dennis, and Johnson got to know each other through the skaters they were working with. Together they hatched the idea of building a skate park.

"All three of us were like, 'Man, I think this is fate. We need to all do this together,'” Dennis said.

The three of them joined forces and decided to push for a skate park in downtown.

A local skateboarder tests out the new skate park in Apex
Credit Peyton Sickles

"We organized through Instagram and through our shop for kids to come down and meet us and go to the town council meeting," Dennis said.

"We had like 70 kids show up, and I remember skateboarding into the parking lot with all of these kids. We looked like a gang, like we’re going to come and like burn the town to the ground. The council members and the mayor were looking out the window and they were in shock," he said with a laugh.

The teens sat through the entire meeting. Several gave speeches about why Apex needs a skate park and at the end of the meeting, the council voted unanimously to fund the plaza. The skaters went to work designing it. There’s rails to grind on, benches to get dope air off of, and there’s even a pool that gives the plaza an old-school twist.

"I’m super excited about that pool. I'm scared as hell about dropping into that pool, but I’m super excited about it," Dennis said.

The park opened at the beginning of August, and has taken about a year to go from paper plans to a concrete foundation.

"It’s so rewarding and gratifying for me, that we did this together, not me, but we did this together, and it’s definitely well worth it," Gilbert said. "What seems to be impossible can happen if a community rallies together, and they can all work together to make it happen."
 

Check out the video below of Ryan Holmes of Apex cruising through the new skate park: