Celebrating life

'Skate & Bike Across Rez' becomes more than the ride

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

LUKACHUKAI, Ariz, June 12, 2012

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(Times photo - Glenda Rae Davis)

TOP: Left to right, Celebrate Life: Skate and Ride Across The Rez event coordinators Michelle Sherman and Sierra Frank-Ignacio and supporter Wayne Bennett on the first day of the event in Shiprock.

SECOND FROM THE TOP: On Day 4, July 9, of the Celebrate Life: Skate and Ride Across The Rez event, participants skate into Lukachukai, Ariz.

THIRD FROM THE TOP: Participants in the Celebrate Life: Skate and Ride Across The Rez event ask for donations in front of Chinle's Basha's. (Courtesy photo - Michelle Sherman)

FOURTH FROM THE TOP:A Celebrate Life: Skate and Ride Across The Rez participant skates into Lukachukai, Ariz. July 9 holding a skateboard-turned-sign trying to get donations to build a skate park in Shiprock.

FIFTH FROM THE TOP: Day 4, July 9, of the Celebrate Life: Skate and Ride Across The Rez event participants skate into Lukachukai, Ariz.

Y outh participating in the "Celebrate Life: Skate & Bike Across Rez" event skated and biked into Shiprock, N.M., on Wednesday ending their six-day tour that took them to Tuba City, Kayenta, Wheatfields, Chinle, and Lukachukai, in efforts to get donations that would help build a skate park in Shiprock.

The group was only able to fundraise a little over $100, but the event is only the beginning of their efforts.

"Celebrate Life has touched a lot of people's hearts," said Michelle Sherman in Lukachukai on Monday. "We're thankful of the people we were able to meet and inspire."

Sherman, 27, the event coordinator, began thinking about the event over a year ago after she had a dream of skating across the Navajo Nation by herself.

"I just can't believe it's really happening," she said at the start of the event.

Sherman, who headed the event through her organization, Native LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning)/Two-Spirit Youth, received numerous water and food donations as well as $500 from Rethink Dine Power who co-coordinated the event with her.

"The skaters are my family," said Rethink Dine Power director Sierra Frank-Ignacio, 23. "They all already portray the concept 'Celebrate Life.' They taught me a lot in regards to it. If it wasn't for them I don't know that this would have been possible."

The group also received support from Nashoba Youth Foundation board member Wayne Bennett.

Bennett was able to help transport participants in his bus, which he affectingly called "The Short Bus." He also donated new skateboard decks from Native Boards skate shop.

"Skateboarding and BMX is a huge part of their life," he said about the youth. "They are able to create bonds and a skate park becomes a social gathering spot. Not only for the skaters and BMX'ers but also their parents, the elders and anyone that wants to just hang out."

"NYF wants to help Shiprock build that skate park," he added. "I think it's cool what they did. They were tired of waiting so they decided to take action."

The tour had a steady number of six skaters and two bicyclists throughout the journey, slightly increasing and decreasing as they entered different towns.

At each stop the group did things to collect donations and pass time until their departure the next day.

In Tuba City, Kayenta and Chinle the group displayed their skills at their respective skate parks. In Wheatfields they went fishing, and in Lukachukai they listened to an acoustic set from a local band called OverRuled.

"In Chinle we were in front of Bashas' asking for donations," said skater Anthony J. Lee, 19, on Monday. "We were able to raise a little over $100."

Lee, who is originally from Shiprock has been skating the entire tour and after six days of skating said he could not believe the end was so close.

"At the beginning I thought it seemed so long," Lee said, "Now it's just around the corner. I'm very proud to be a part of it."

Tyrell Johnson, 18, shared similar thoughts about the tour.

"I don't want it to end," Johnson said. "We had so much fun."

All of the participants expressed appreciation to each community and all the people they met along the way.

"There was a lady that we met in Chinle who lost her son recently," Sherman said. "She's wanting to do something like this in memory of him. The greatest thing was how the guys responded to her. They were very considerate. They told her that she'd be ok and that they are all her sons, too."

It was moments like this Sherman said that she knew participants were growing.

"Their leadership capabilities grew during their time together," she said. "Some didn't notice their progress until I mentioned it. They were really surprised with themselves. More importantly, they were proud of themselves."

At different times in the duration of the event Sherman educated the group on suicide among LGBTQ/Native youth, which is where the significance of "Celebrate Life" comes from.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native youth and is three times the national average.

"I think it is especially hard living as an LGBTQ native youth," said Sherman. "Not only are you having to struggle with discrimination for being Native but also for being LGBTQ. I don't want that for our native youth and LGBTQ native youth.

"That's why I called it 'Celebrate Life,'" she added. "There are so many other opportunities for our youth and there is also help."

It was from Sherman's talks that Lee came up with the idea to turn the event's moniker, "Celebrate Life" into a movement.

"We all want to keep that support going," Lee said. "I made a logo and it has an equal sign in it. That's what it's all about, equality. We don't want the youth to be worried, we want to build that safe zone for them."

Partners in the project are Native Youth Leadership Alliance and the Brown Boy Project.

Additional donations can still be given for the project. Contact: Michelle, 505-486-4232, or Sierra, 760-828-8644.