By Michael Salmon
Sal Masekela, Commentator, journalist, musician, and producer
Steve Larosiliere, Founder and President, STOKED
Masekela opened the conversation by discussing his background and his interest in skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding; sports, he says, that changed his life. Channeling his passions into a successful career as a commentator, journalist, musician, and producer, Masekela said he often was asked why there were not more people “who look like him” participating in the sports that he loved. “It made me stop and think ‘how come there aren’t more people who look like me?,” Masekela said. “The more I thought about it, the more it came down to a simple thing: access and opportunity.”
Larosiliere had become a mentor to kids, and concluded that kids who love action sports should have opportunities to be mentored in that environment. He reached out to a much-in-demand Masekela about a collaboration. Immediately bonding over their Haitian heritage and shared passion of similar action sports and activities, they spent hours discussing action sports, access, opportunity and mentorship. The result: STOKED was born.
Although the original idea for STOKED was mentoring though action sports, now, says Larosiliere, STOKED is more about teaching “21st century life skills” and core youth development. Through skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing, kids learn resilience, self-reliance, and how to build community. They also are learning about design, advertising and branding.
So what about the impact these activities have on the kids? Larosiliere used the example of a skateboarder who has practiced a trick 100 times, eventually landing the trick on the 101st attempt. After not landing it again on the 102nd attempt, the kid practices for another 100 attempts. “What do you think that does to a young person’s head? To have that kind of determination. These kids have the audacity to go for things in life. They are more collaborative,” Larosiliere proudly exclaimed.
He emphasized that STOKED does not coach to technique, but for character. He found the benefits of the mentor/mentee format worked to benefit both parties, which broke down walls and created an instant community. STOKED stands for Success, Teamwork, Openness, Kudos, Energy, Determination.
READ MORE: LA84 Hosts Skateboarding Convening
“Low-income kids need the same opportunities as middle-income kids,” added Larosiliere. “They need to be surrounded by good people, who are willing to work with them for a long time. From that, the kids gain a supportive community and the relationships that come from that, and they develop. They will begin to believe they can do something bigger than themselves.”
“They learn that if they fall, that failing is a part of life. Just because one fails, it does not make them a failure. It is just an action, and STOKED is always about progressing.”
STOKED has worked hard to ensure kids in action sports get opportunities and Larosiliere feels that skateboarding and surfing’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program validates their efforts. Collaboration events like the LA84 Summit help too in building the community. By taking on a ‘inch-wide, mile-deep” approach to their program, Masekela and Larosiliere hope to expand STOKED’s efforts down to the middle and elementary-school levels to change even more lives.
Learn more about STOKED here.