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Is This The End for Ghana’s First Skatepark?

Locked in a land dispute, the future of Freedom Skatepark hangs in the balance. We spoke to the park’s founder, Sandy Alibo, who is now in a struggle to keep the first skatepark in West Africa from shuttering.

On April 30, a contractor alongside 30 workers stormed Ghana’s Freedom Skatepark, demanding to build a wall on the premises. According to the contractor, the initial land owner who leased the land to the Freedom SkatePark team did it under illegal terms. The skatepark officials managed to legally hold them off that day.

On May 6, the workers came again. This time they were able to erect a wall, using violent threats according to reports. This development has sent a frisson of hopelessness throughout Ghana’s youth and cultural communities. Further, it has perplexed Sandy Alibo, the founder of the park. The land was leased to the Freedom Skatepark for 10 years, and the amount was fully paid by Alibo.

“When we first came, we wanted to buy the land but then we couldn’t afford it so we opted to rent it instead,” Alibo told OkayAfrica. “We rented it for 10 years and paid all expenses.”

Freedom Skatepark is now known globally as a place where anyone, irrespective of age, class, or any affiliation can come to just be themselves — just last month U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited the park. But the land once looked like a jungle. It has since been transformed into a standard skatepark, with a house adjacent to the park, that was also rented by Alibo, used to organize workshops and host projects.

As it stands, the leasing agreement in the name of Freedom Skatepark is being challenged by another person who claims he owns the land. This alleged owner has kept their identity away from the media and is operating solely through their subordinates. To affirm ownership, they ordered the construction of a wall to mark the territory.

As such, it has forced the skatepark into an indefinite closure. Since it first opened its doors to the public in December 2021, the Freedom Skatepark has been a community lifeblood in Ghana, a symbol of freedom where youths can skate and engage in art forms including music, photography, and painting.

It’s barely been over a year yet the future of the park is in jeopardy and as tenants, they are caught in the crossfire of a land dispute. This has triggered the indefinite closure of the park

How it all Began

The dream started seven years ago by Sandy Alibo, a Caribbean woman whose vision was to bridge the gap between the Black community in the diaspora and Africans. To do this, she decided to elevate board sports and that birthed Surf Ghana, a collective championing youth participation in surfing and skateboarding.

“My vision for the skatepark was to increase the practice of skateboarding, improve African and Black representation in the community, and create a safe space for the people,” says Alibo.

Before Sandy began Surf Ghana, skateboarding and surfing were foreign to Ghanaians. They were used to “traditional sports,” popular amongst them being football and boxing. What made Surf Ghana stand out was its utmost interest in creating and serving the community. Alibo’s vision was to create communities for skateboarding and surfing under one umbrella.

They solicited equipment from enthusiasts around the world, receiving used skateboards from boarders and skate shops through donations. Subsequently, they began teaching people how to skate on the streets. Safety became a luxury they couldn’t afford on these streets when authorities and other people wouldn’t tolerate it.

This was the primary reason Alibo started crowdfunding for a space skateboarders could call their own. The late Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White and former artistic director of Louis Vuitton, together with Pan-African clothing brand, Daily Paper, extended a hand in helping the collective raise the needed funding for what would be the first skatepark in West Africa.

Alibo saw potential in Ghana’s vibrant youth, and love for street and urban culture and believed they could build this park on their own and manage it as well. “For the skatepark, the main goal was to have a space, managed by the youth, by women, and engage conversation in sports, in arts and culture as well,” says Alibo.

The Freedom Skatepark has given this sense of belonging to street kids and the youth. Further, it has become a hub for creative work, ranging from music, photography, dance, graffiti art, fashion designing, and mentorship programs that teach its community entrepreneurial skills.

“This park has the imprint of members of the community on it,” says Alibo. “The tables and chairs here were designed by skateboarders, the art on the wall by skateboarders, and the photos and the park itself were designed and built by skateboarders. So losing this, as you can see, is frustrating.”

Since its inception, Alibo has been able to hire 15 of the community’s youth to manage and run the park and its activities. Most of the youth had no idea what accounting, project management, hospitality management, event organization, or brand collaboration was like. But granted this opportunity, they are receiving practical lessons on how to use these skills in sustaining a community edifice.

“Managing a place comes with a lot of responsibility and that is why today I am very sad because it is a lot of effort,” says Alibo. “Seven years! Seven years to convince people to build a place that gives hope to the whole country. It is a symbol for the nation, youth empowerment and it is a place where Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and Kamala Harris visited to spend time with us. And this is not a common thing to see just anywhere in Ghana. That is why I was so enthusiastic about this project and community because it stands for so much hope.”

A domino effect on the Skate Gal Club

Tearing down the park would mean tearing down four years of investment. One thing Alibo was able to accomplish is creating a safe space for women. In 2019, they started the Skate Girls Club, an operation that broadened the diverse ways girls can participate in sports and arts. These women not only skate but come to the park to find sisters, build their confidence, have conversations about trauma, abuse, and how to grow into better versions of themselves.

“We dedicate Thursdays solely to girls to come around and skate or have fun,” says Alibo. “ But before the park, we used to rent out private spaces to train with the girls. It is a healing process we like to call skate therapy.”

Right beside the skate park, there is a music studio dedicated to the public. Interested or upcoming artists come over to pitch their project and they are allowed four hours to record their art monthly for free. The studio has a calm ambiance with surf boards and skateboard artifacts to highlight the culture. Upcoming artists are also allowed to host listening sessions for their music in the space.

The collective named this initiative Project Vibrate, and it has provided musicians, spoken word artists, and DJs resources they need to elevate their skills. Collaborations with Spotify and Kendrick Lamar’s label, PG Lang, have contributed to the success of Project Vibrate.

“With the help of the community, we have been able to develop an educational program. So every month we organize a masterclass here and this place is always full with 100, 200 people,” says Alibo. “So if we have all these people coming to support us, we are really frustrated today because it is like people don’t understand the meaning of this project, the power of this project. It is unfortunate that we are caught in the crossfires of a land dispute where we are only tenants.”

Their rise in Ghana’s urban culture has been meteoric, which has extended into collaborations with huge and influential institutions including the United NationsMeta, French Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, and the Dutch Embassy.

“For me, they are taking away joy and opportunity,” Nella, a freelance dancer who rehearses at the park, tells OkayAfrica. “This is a space I get to express and be myself with a community of like-minded individuals and everything is free which is so rare. To see the park being destroyed like this breaks my heart.”

A Call for Help

Alibo has called on the Ministry of Sports, the Ghana Olympic Committee, and the National Sports Authority to come to their aid. A donation page has been put up to help pay the legal fees for settling the current land dispute.

#SaveFreedomSkatepark has been trending for the past week. The online community has been vocal in its effort to help save the park. Influential voices like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa have expressed their disdain towards the obliteration of the park.

The skatepark is an edifice that has rejuvenated and diversified street and urban culture in Ghana. Losing will certainly upend the progress and years of investment and resources put into realizing a rare yet difficult dream.

There is a lot at risk but there is also some optimism within the community that some sort of middle ground can be figured out. “ I am looking beyond the damage being done here,” Tommy, a community manager for the park tells OkayAfrica. “I believe everything can be settled in a diplomatic way so we reach a consensus. It is sad what is happening here but it can be solved if we speak and negotiate with the right people.’’

Source Okayafrica.