COMPTON SKATEPARK: A REFUGE FOR THE YOUTH FROM THE “TROUBLE” ON THE STREETS
Updated: Aug 31
Words and Photos By Ursula Vari
The sun had already dropped low when I hit Alameda Street with its industrial strip housing oil recycling plants and piles of trash strewn along the railroad. I am in the heart of Compton and by the time I cross Rosecrans Avenue the train tracks are cleaned-up. Perhaps it is because of the presence of the Volunteers of America Building that things are gleaming. At Palmer Street the trees suddenly become greener marking the edge of the lively neighborhood park.
Although Wilson Park is relatively small, it proves to be a vibrant oasis to the youth who are joyously swaying in the swing. A few feet away I find a group of skilled youngsters shooting hoops making bucket after bucket, despite the strong wind.
I pull up on Rose Street where cars park in the wrong direction, but no one seems to mind. A beautiful German shepherd guards a humble home with his owner sunbathing in his wheelchair, staring at the cloudless sky. I arrive at Compton Skatepark where most of the skaters are already honing their skills on the grind rail, some rolling on their boards while others hang on their scooters and on their bikes. It is a bright day with the wind blowing through the weeping willows adjacent to the maintenance facility.
Terence Anthony Favre, 27, a lanky young man with model looks has been coming to the skatepark for 15 years. He works as a security guard in Chino, yet he still finds time to come to the park several times a week. “This is my second home. It taught me a lot about life. You see a lot of people coming here who want to be professional skateboarders and they worked their whole life for it. Some friends made it to Thrasher, so it’s motivational you know”, he says while doting on his energetic French bulldog, Icey.
A few feet away Tony Dank, 25, shines with his skills in the heavily graffitied bowl. He’s been coming to the park his “whole life” and it shows. He is fearless and does most of his tricks with a self-assured smile. “I keep coming back ‘cos the park keeps you out of trouble, it takes you away from places you don’t want to go, like ending up in a casket, or ending up in prison, or in the hospital” he says while taking a break from his stunts. “Right here you can end up in the hospital but you are just going to have a broken leg or arm and it’s better than being shot or being in prison”, Dank concludes.
Beyond his boyish smile there’s deep wisdom. “It’s a lot of trouble out here on the streets but at the skate park there’s no gangbanging, there’s just peace and love.” Favre affirms Dank’s statement “there’s no gang activity in the park, we all come here to get away from that stuff”. The park does feel safe, like any suburban neighborhood, the vibe here is permeated by a genuine desire to improve one’s skateboarding skills and even life skills. “We make sure we teach people how to be respectful and how to be polite to the elders.” says Dank whose dream is to become a firefighter.
To Cristian Guillen, 26, who works at a nearby warehouse as a “forklift” and has been coming to the park for 13 years, the place is “not only an escape” but where he “clears his mind”. He looks much younger than his 26 years as he contemplates his journey ahead “I see myself in the future, older, but still skating, and skating with my kids, still pushing.”
A few feet away, Allin Lamar Brown Jr,12, begins his stunts on his bike as the sun paints the bowl golden. He has been a regular at the park for the past two years. He lifts up the front of his bike and rolls down the launch pad with his front tire sky-bound almost at a 90-degree angle. “At the park everybody is welcome '', he tells me as a couple of teenage girls gather and sit by the fence overlooking the launchpad enjoying their homemade duritos from the nearby snack cart. They giggle approvingly as Brown flips his bike to attempt another stunt.
With all the “peace and love” at the Compton Skatepark it is hard to fathom the gang activity in the surrounding areas. Yet it wasn’t gangs that put Wilson Park on the news a couple of years back. It was the story of two former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who are currently under criminal investigation for the alleged false imprisonment of a skateboarder from Wilson Park and the controversial fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado a few months later.
Despite it all, on this early spring afternoon Compton Skatepark continues to be home to “good friendships” and “good energy” with ice cream trucks and candy carts gliding down Rose Street, while their signature sound prompts the on-guard German shepherd to chime in with his own mature howl.