skate, development, palestinian territory - occupied
An interview with Founder of Longboarding for Peace: Michael Brooke
This month we are taking the opportunity to hear from Michael Brooke, Founder of Longboarding for Peace, about his past, present and future initiatives using longboarding for social change.
1. When did the idea for Longboarding for Peace come to you?
I was in my basement in 2011 working away on my computer. I had moved out of my upstairs office due to the fact my family were fostering a 12 year-old boy. I had been inspired by Skateistan and their work in Afghanistan. Somehow, the idea of SEARCH/SPARK/STOKE leaped into my head. The idea was simple enough – skateboarding for me was about searching for new spots and ideas…getting fulfilled by these experiences (the spark) and then sharing this feeling with others (the stoke). That was the original concept – purely skate centered.
At Surf Expo in January 2012, I met up with Abraham Paskowitz of Carver Skateboards. He told me about the work he’d done with Explore Corps in the middle east. Explore Corps had worked with the Peres Center for Peace and brought surfing to the Gaza Strip. They called it Surfing for Peace. I connected all the dots, and in July 2012, we shipped 30 complete longboards and helmets to Jaffa. We did 5 demos throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories and brought Arabs and Israelis together.
2. What were your initial aims with this initiative, and how did these change over time?
Originally the Search/Spark /Stoke Tour was to last one month. The idea of getting people who normally don’t interact with each other was a key goal. Using longboards as a tool for peace in an area where most people find the concept of peace somewhat inconceivable inspired others to set up. We began to find volunteers in Texas, Los Angeles, British Columbia along with 25 other countries. LFP became a movement of peace, balance and justice powered by skateboarders.
3. What do you consider some of this organizations biggest achievements to date? Or in other words, what do you feel most proud of?
In total, we have been responsible for over 60 different initiatives. We have documented most of them in Concrete Wave. Of all the things we’ve done, is it the Gun Buy Back that I feel most proud of. Working with the police departments of San Pedro and San Diego California, we have traded in over 500 firearms for skateboards. The idea for this came from Neil Carver of Carver Skateboards. It’s safe bet that some of these guns, had they been still in people’s homes would have been stolen and eventually wound up either in a crime and/or wounding or killing someone. Adding to this is the fact that the person who spearheads this annual gun buy back and is instrumental in its success is a man who spent 27 years in prison for 2nd degree murder using a gun. Harvey Hawks and I became friends while he was in prison. I believe Harvey is the poster child for rehabilitation and redemption. As he often tells me, his life would have been totally different had there been a skateboard in the back of his car instead of a gun. By removing guns and replacing them with skateboards, we are putting a small dent in the gun problem in the USA and offering a different perspective.
4. What have been some of the challenges of setting up your organization? What are/were some of the strategies you have devised to help overcome these challenges?
Originally, I knew that I didn’t want to set up a charity or non profit. I didn’t have the cash to do this properly and I felt that 80% of an organization’s time is devoted to getting publicity - trying to raise the money to help carry out the work. I basically short–circuited this idea. Concrete Wave paid me enough that I had money that I could work on LFP. I had money to buy pins and stickers. I also buy ink by the gallon (as the old saying goes) so I had the wherewithal to promote LFP inside the magazine. We have faced some issues as it relates to issuing tax receipts, but the work around has been to partner with various charities. In the case of Skateworks, we have found a perfect fit.
5. The local context is always very important. Can you tell us a bit about the contexts in which you work and how this has informed the strategies employed by your organization?
We have engaged in a local skate shop – Longboard Haven. They are based in downtown Toronto and we have done a pretty cool initiative with them. It was called Blood from Boarders and it was all about getting young adults (17+) to roll up their sleeves and donate blood. However, in the grand scheme of things, LFP has no local context – we are truly an international movement that focuses on the idea of getting local people to step on a longboard and step up and do great things in their communities.