Deadline: Thurs., Aug. 2, 1:03 a.m. EST. That’s when it’ll be too late to help “kickstart” a documentary film project that’s been near and dear to our hearts here at Metropolis Coffee Company since the day Ryan Ferguson first walked in the door and began to tell us about how skateboarding is a sport that can reach disenfranchised urban youth.
Our co-owner, Tony Dreyfuss, is a lifelong skater and this hit close to home right away. Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk has donated, but whether you’ve skated or not, this is a story you should hear, and that deserves to be funded and told, we think. Because for a lot of these kids, it’s literally either “Skate Or Die.”
Not Just Names
If you don’t get it at this point, you’ve got your head in the sand. In Chicago, the murder rate has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in 2012 and it’s quite clear that if the collective “we” doesn’t get serious about it, the violence will continue and spread in a heartbreaking web of death and destruction throughout the city, claiming victims left and right. It’s already happening.
But where there are hopeful people, there is hope. “The way it started was I read an article in the [Chicago] Tribune about this new breed of skaters coming from these horribly dangerous neighborhoods, finding skateboarding as a figurative and literal escape,” says Ferguson. “I grew up skateboarding in the 90’s in a totally different setting, and it resonated with me what skateboarding could offer kids in these situations.
“I followed a couple of kids around the city for a couple of years, and then one of them got shot and it took a 90-degree turn, became very real, but then grew into something bigger,” continues Ferguson. “Leo had witnessed his brother get shot in front of him as a kid, had no role models, never got a high school diploma, locked up for graffiti 100 times. Then, when he was shot in the calf, they were telling him he wouldn’t be able to skate again, which took away the last refuge he had.”
Instead of just letting go, Castillo “…helped build a skate park in Little Village, out there 40 hours a week,” says Ferguson. I filmed him in the alderman’s office asking for $100,000 to do next phase in the skate park, then he began working with an after-school program four days a week.” In short, he adapted and survived, but this isn’t a story that ends…it’s life.
“He’s doing pretty well,” says Ferguson of Castillo. “He’s alive and skating again, but still lives in the same dangerous neighborhood, still struggling to live and get by. As much as it’s an inspiring story, there’s a grim reality there that it’s not easy to escape from and we had multiple blunt reminders of reality during filming,” recalls Ferguson. “He was creating permission slips for his programs in this computer lab and nonchalantly starts telling me about getting jumped the week before, how he wrestled away a knife and ran away. No matter what positive things happen, that is the persistent truth.”
More Than A Sport
The skateboard community has kicked in to support this project. The aforementioned Hawk even tweeted about it to his three-million-plus followers, but it needs to be a local effort to stop the violence. Ferguson has coordinated with the folks at CeaseFire, a stop-the-violence initiative here in Chicago, but they’re “…fighting their own battles, trying to stay alive” he says. “To be straight about it, we need to tap into concerned, progressive citizens with expendable income.”
If that’s you, feel free to stop reading, click here and go ahead and donate. Then come back and keep reading so that you know EXACTLY where your funds are headed:
“[The goal is for] the film to get edited by a world-class editor and be a film that’s seen far and wide, but I’d also like to turn it into a sort of permanent outreach where we use it in schools, partner with other skateboard programs, bring deliverables to kids–whatever means we can propel off the film, that’s been part of it since the get-go,” says Ferguson. “It’s not just about telling an inspiring story about a kid attempting to overcome the odds, really want it to be a launching point for a larger outreach of some sort.”
And to do that, “Kickstarter needs to work because it’s the way the story can be told,” Ferguson continues. “We have an editor on board, but it costs money. I spent months looking for the perfect editor with feature and documentary experience, also somewhat young with a pulse on the culture and found the perfect person. I edit a lot of my own work, generally, but I’ve been shooting this for four years and am too deeply involved–I’ve shot well over 100 hours of footage. Not to say I’ve lost perspective, you start to lose touch of the way a story needs to be crafted.
“I do think this is a really important story and the violence here is horrible. I don’t want to it’s say unsolvable, but you read about people complaining about not enough police and these tangential issues of the actual violence, which is due to economic and racial segregation, stuff you just can’t fix overnight,” says Ferguson. “That’s why a group like CeaseFire is so successful. They’re not trying to end gang violence, but save one person at a time and I’m looking at my project like that, too. One kid’s story could inspire one other kid and make it all worthwhile.”
Why Skateboarding, Not Baseball?
Look below the surface of all this, at why skateboarding could very well be the sport most capable of making a difference, and it gets…apparent. Obvious. Glaring, even.
“Skateboarding is unique in how perfect of an outlet it is for these kids,” says Ferguson. “It’s just got that grit, that street kind of underground element to it. They form tight-knit skate crews and, without making too direct of a parallel, they almost have a gang-like, familial quality that draws some of those most vulnerable kids, who don’t have role models and live on streets where gang leaders are their role models, to it.”
This included Castillo and his friends: “They witnessed people getting killed in front of them at five- and six-years-old, ages where you can only imagine the trauma,” says Ferguson. “Every one of these kids have experienced that at some point and they get desensitized to violence at an early age, so they’re easy to prey on. Even Leo, as much as he’s trying, is a violent kid. He fights a lot and he always has. If it weren’t for skating, I think he’dve been lost a long time ago.” Want to play a part by donating at least a $1 to make sure that doesn’t happen, click here.
Why Get Involved?
Like he said, Ferguson didn’t grow up in the Chicago neighborhoods where the worst of this epidemic of violence is occurring, but he’s four years into what he calls his “roller coaster project” and it just keeps evolving.
Ferguson has been working professionally for about 10 years. He recently completed a documentary on stand-up comic, Hannibal Buress, which was purchased by Comedy Central and will appear as a feature on the DVD.
As we said at the beginning of this post, this project resonated with us from the start. “In terms of Metropolis, Tony was a supporter years back when I had no story, just this idea, this theme of these kids using skating as an outlet,” says Ferguson. “I know he’s a long-time skater and I had some test footage that resonated with him and he was really supportive early on. Metropolis threw a big party that helped fund the production, so they’ve been along on this for a long time and it’s really awesome to have local partners as great as them.”
Hope we’re not self-glorifying there, but we appreciate the kind words and encourage all other business owners and citizens to consider helping this project happen. It just takes a second to CLICK HERE and donate whatever you can. Don’t just read about the violence; help to stop it.
Again, the Kickstarter page.