Hip-hop stars raise money for Dayton skate parks

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It’s uncommon to have international hip-hop artists like Aesop Rock, Blockhead and Lupe Fiasco decide to support a particular set of projects in a small market city in a flyover state. But that’s exactly what has happened with “Pumpkin Seeds,” the collaborative fundraising single raising money for The Collaboratory in Dayton with the goal of completing skateboard parks at Claridge Park and Home Avenue.

“Pumpkin Seeds” was released digitally last December by Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment. Pre-orders are open now for a 7-inch vinyl single, which will ship Feb. 7. The label is also offering special tie-in merchandise, including T-shirts and two skate deck designs.

“We were doing a lot of interesting stuff surrounding upcycling T-shirts and art for Aesop’s latest project,” said Nikki Jean, Rhymesayers’ director of social responsibility. “I saw there was an opportunity to do something with the environment. You’re talking about garbage and recycling and upcycling things so there’s a natural tie-in there.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Planting the seed

Jean mentioned the idea to Aesop Rock, a longtime skateboarder.

“Aesop is passionate about skateboarding,” she said. “He said we should look into recycling tennis courts into a skate park. He did it in Portland, where he’s based out of, and other places so he suggested we do that. We’re a small label so it’s my job to take his idea and see how to make it manageable for us. Starting a skate park by ourselves would be hard because a great skate park has community.”

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She also said choosing a community and location was crucial.

“We looked to see if we could find a skate park that already exists,” Jean adedd. “We wanted it to be a place where it would have some real impact. We didn’t want it to be in a place that was over-resourced. We wanted it to be in a place that had a very diverse and involved community.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Building a team

Jean did an Internet search and discovered a Dayton Daily News article about David Schweitzer developing such a project with The Collaboratory, the hometown nonprofit founded by Peter Benkendorf.

“I couldn’t have done this without partnering with Peter at Dayton Collaboratory, who is our fiscal agent,” Schweitzer said. “He has opened doors for different things we wouldn’t be able to access because we don’t have the nonprofit status. I knew that was key because that opened up in-kind donations and tax-deductible status for companies and individuals looking to do that. I wanted to do this right because I knew it was important for the legitimacy.”

While Rhymesayers is making a major gesture with this fundraising project, Jean is quick to credit the work of Benkendorf and Schweitzer, who is the project manager for the skate park at Claridge Park.

“Peter has just been tireless in his efforts,” Jean said. “I have to take my hat off to Dave too because he has done fine work over the years. He had already done the work, all the little pieces we have to be concerned about as a business. He set the table so perfectly through his quiet, diligent effort that doesn’t get recognized or applauded. It’s not the fancy, sexy work but it’s what is making these parks possible.”

She added it was important that a nonprofit organization be involved.

“It couldn’t just be a wild, rogue park because that could be a challenge for us as a company,” Jean continued. “You had to already have the permission of the municipality to build this structure. It had to have a nonprofit involved to make the transfer of funds clean, easy, airtight and understandable for our accountants.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Setting the stage

Schweitzer, who grew up on a 2,600-acre farm in rural Ohio, got his first skateboard for his 11th birthday. He built his first skate ramp that same year and soon advanced to constructing more intricate obstacles. He has been involved with numerous builds since, including Deer Meadow skate park in Moraine, so he knew the importance of getting everything approved through proper channels.

“Being a lifelong skateboarder, I’ve definitely seen renegade DIY parks pop up,” Schweitzer said. “They get going and because they’re not approved, they get torn out. I’ve seen that across the country. Whenever I’d be in a town that had a DIY park, I’d visit because they’re so unique. You know the people put their time and resources into building something they know ultimately, may not last.”

He said it took roughly three years of going through red tape and bureaucracy but was pleased to finally have approval.

“I wanted to make sure I did it legit, so I went and did the hard work,” Schweitzer said. “I finally got approval for Claridge Park back in September 2021. Me and a ragtag bunch of guys volunteered to build it.”

Double the fun

Schweitzer has been advocating for a professionally built park in Dayton for about 20 years.

“I believe the city the size of Dayton should have at least one skate park,” he said. “We have a very rich history with skateboarding, and we didn’t have a park in the city limits. Everybody said the same thing, ‘We can’t believe this hasn’t happened.’ We had skate parks in the area, but I wanted something for the city that would last, and now, we have two DIY parks.”

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The funds from the “Pumpkin Seeds” promotion will support both DIY skate parks in Dayton.

“Even before Claridge, folks had been building a rogue skate park on Home Avenue, right under (U.S.) 35,” Benkendorf said. “They were doing that without permission, and they decided they wanted to try to go legit. So, we’ve been working with City Hall to help them get through all the legal details. Part of the money we’re getting is going to be used to finish off Home Avenue. The DIY movement in skate parks is a thing. There is a lot of work and a lot of manpower to build a park but there’s a lot of passion in the community for it. There are a bunch of parks in the suburbs but there was nothing in the city of Dayton and now to be able to have two is exciting.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Fostering community and more

Having professionally built, government approved skate parks is about more than providing a gathering place for what some may see as punk kids. They become a destination spot that creates friendships and peer support for active individuals while stimulating the local economy.

“It’s really a cool economic development engine more than it is just a bunch of local kids hanging out and skating,” Benkendorf said. “It’s been an education for me to see how much community there is in skateboarding. It’s men and women of all ages and a lot of people of color. Looking at the national level, like the U.S. Olympic team in 2021, three of the eight members of that team were people of color, so a lot of cool stuff is happening. It’s great to see Dayton embracing it.”

Jean, who visited the Miami Valley for the first time last August, agrees.

“Lupe and Aesop are both skaters and they told me it forms a different kind of community and that’s the important part,” she said. “If you love skating it would mean you have some common ground and they ended up making friends they never would’ve made had they not been involved with skating and being a part of that community. It’s so important for Rhymesayers to embrace opportunities like that and places like skate parks in Dayton rather than a bigger city. Keep your eyes on Dayton because it has a lot to offer.”

For more information, visit www.daytoncollaboratory.org or https://rhymesayers.com. For additional info about the single, visit https://rhymesayers.com/collections/releases/products/aesop-rock-x-blockhead-pumpkin-seeds-feat-lupe-fiasco-7-vinyl

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.

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