The new film The BlackBoard, directed by Marquis Bradshaw, will screen tonight at FTC Skate Shop (1632 Haight St.) It's a documentary that follows a handful of African-American professional skateboarders, who discuss their passion for the sport and their struggle to be accepted within the larger skateboarding community.
One of the film's stars is Jabari Pendleton, a native of St. Louis who relocated to San Francisco in 2006. Skating his way through the streets of San Francisco ever since, he's secured a fellowship within the local skate community, particularly with the skateboard brand Western Edition. We caught up with Pendleton to talk about skateboarding and his long-term goals for the film.
What was it like growing up as an African-American skateboarder?
I was raised by my mother, who always taught me about my culture and empowered me, but I was ostracized for being into skateboarding. It was hard. I was called everything from a "sellout" to a "white boy" by kids in my own black community. It killed me, because as an African-American male, I felt that I've battled the same struggles as my peers.
Physically, I was able to hold my own. I was bullied and had to fight a lot, and even got jumped once by three guys. Mentally, it was really hard for me. There was even a time I quit, but my passion brought me back to it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about skateboarders?
Skateboarding is not just a sport or hobby—it’s more like a lifestyle. Before mainstream and corporate sponsorship, my era saw it more as therapy. I mean, there are all types of mechanics that can determine how good someone is at skateboarding, but it’s not something that anyone can teach you how to do. You pick up a board and go for it. You fall, get back up and keep going.
I think that’s part of where my passion for it comes from, because l see it as a metaphor for life. I’ve fallen many times, but I’ve consistently picked myself up and kept going.
What was it like for you when Marquis asked you to be featured in this documentary?
I felt honored! It hit right with what I went through in my childhood, always wanting acceptance. Marquis is a very talented filmmaker, and he skated, so the collaboration was a perfect fit.
He came to San Francisco and I took him to all the places I like to skate. I also introduced him to some of the other skaters that are featured in the film, like Ron Allen, Karl Watson and Adrian Williams. It flowed together nicely, and I’m proud of the film.
Tell us a little bit about the Western Edition brand that you represent.
It’s a brand that pays tribute to San Francisco’s Western Addition community—hence the name. My really good friend Ian Johnson started it in 1999, and he’s a dope-ass artist. His art features classic San Francisco images like the Painted Ladies, and jazz musicians from the Fillmore’s “Harlem of the West” period. It's timeless and done with such great detail.
I, along with other riders, have custom skateboards created by Ian, and they’re usually sold at FTC on Haight Street. My friend Ando also plays a major role in the brand. It’s a real family situation.
What is your message to youth who see the film?
My message is that it’s important to be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a skater or a ballerina: just stay true to yourself. Pop culture and society teach youth to believe that they aren’t good enough to explore their true gifts and aspirations. Everything seems so out of reach because we live in this expensive city and are all just trying to survive. A lot of people don't have time to work on passion projects.
Anyone who is interested in skating should just pick up a board. It doesn’t matter what your gender or cultural background is: just go for it. You’re guaranteed to make friends in this community. There’s various ways of looking at the situation.
I was treated poorly by the black community because I liked skating, but now it’s more common and I’m looked at differently. I’m not so concerned these days about people’s perception of me. I’m just doing my thing. But I spent a huge chunk of my life being concerned. That’s what this is about. The challenge of following your dreams is much bigger than this film, but I’m hopeful that it will be a source of inspiration for everybody.
What’s your long-term goal for the film?
I’d love to show this film all over the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and go to places like Barcelona. It would be cool to have all the cast members come as well, and just make a tour of it. I would love to show this film in Barcelona, but right now, I’m starting with San Francisco. I want to show it at community-based events and schools.
I’m just so thankful to Marquis Bradshaw for bringing this issue to light, and giving me the opportunity to tell my story alongside other respected skaters in the film.
The BlackBoard will screen this evening at 8pm at FTC Skate Shop, located at 1632 Haight St. Admission is free.