Places like the Roller Garden bring diverse people together in meaningful ways

On April 19, as I watched the closing arguments in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd from my home in Minneapolis, not far from the scene of the crime, another closing was beginning to take place as well; that of the Roller Garden, a beloved roller rink, after 52 years in business. On the face of it, these two events may seem unrelated, but, for me, the pain of each magnified the other. The Roller Garden stands in stark contrast to what happened at 38th & Chicago, where we saw the history of this country boiled down to a white man’s knee on the neck of yet another unarmed American man of African descent.

While we, as a nation, may be pausing long enough to possibly begin reckoning with our history of separation and oppression that created the environment in which a white police officer could slowly take the life of an unarmed African American man, the closing of the Roller Garden deprives us of a place where people from all backgrounds, identities, orientations and incomes come together week after week and break down those long built-up barriers. Roller Garden is that rare kind of place that we should be working to support, maintain, and expand. I challenge all readers to examine their own lives to see if they have places where a broad mix of people frequent in large enough numbers that everyone feels it is “their place,” and to question as well whether it is an environment conducive to developing deep and meaningful relationships. If your answer is “no,” I again challenge readers to commit to patronizing and creating such places.

If we are going to be successful at taking actual and metaphorical knees off the necks of people of color, we all need to take responsibility for learning our history of separation and oppression, all the way up to the present moment, and work to become more interculturally competent. A key part of the latter is to recognize, understand, and appreciate commonalities and differences between us. The culture at the rink is the only place I know where such a wide variety of adults come together and do just that. We all love skating; you can see it in the way everyone is having their own little party right there on the floor, so we have this commonality to bond over right away. That bond creates the opportunity for us to navigate, understand, and embrace our differences over time as well.

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I’ll give you a picture of what this can look like. About 10 days ago I, a mid-50s woman of European descent, was grooving backwards to one of my favorite songs when an American woman of African descent in her 30s, rolled up beside me. We shared a look and began moving to the beat, stepping together. We felt the energy of getting in sync and skated out the rest of the song. At the end we exchanged names and now we’ve talked each time we’ve seen each other. Will this lead to a deep friendship? At this point, I don’t know, but I do know that’s exactly how I’ve met a bunch of my dear friends at the Roller Garden (RG) in the last 10 years. And I do know my heart is breaking because when RG closes on May 8, it won’t happen again.

Bridget Mathie

Bridget Mathie

Right about now some people will be pointing out that there are two other rinks in the metro area, and, don’t get me wrong, I am glad there are. It’s not the same. They are both very small, and far outside the central corridor. To understand the difference between skating on a small and large rink, think of the difference between being in rush-hour traffic and going on a road trip on the open road; one we avoid if at all possible, and one we call a vacation. More important is the fact that in order for a wide variety of people to come together, a wide variety of people have to be able to reasonably get there. This means a relatively central location on a transit line is crucial. Roller Garden has been accessible; the others are not.

So, just like at the end of the Chauvin trial when we got what felt to many of us like a miracle of convictions, I find myself praying for a miracle of a related sort — the creation of another large, beautiful roller rink in a central location of the Twin Cities that everyone can access and everyone who missed their chance at the Roller Garden can come out, play, meet people, make friends, and inch us closer and closer to a future where we never have to endure the pain of another senseless death by bias.

Bridget Mathie is an on-camera talent, educator, yogi, M.Ed, IDI, QA, certified yoga instructor, and meditator who is passionate about all things that bring humanity together. 

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