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Figure Skating in Detroit hopes to encourage girls to stay sharp

Through academics and leadership training, this program is the new cool.

The terms “figure skating” and “Detroit” don’t often land in the same sentence. For many, the last time the two occupied the same breath was probably in the ’90s and most likely included the names Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

The same can be said about figure skating and the black community. A quick Google search turns up few results, repeating the same few names.

While Detroit proper and the black community lack much exposure to the sport, metro Detroit is actually home to a pretty impressive figure skating community. The Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, for example, has quite a few gold medal-toting coaches, attracting serious skaters from across the region.

Metro Detroit’s skating community was just one of the reasons the acclaimed Figure Skating in Harlem program chose Detroit as its first offshoot city.

“The Detroit area is known all over the world for supporting skating,” says Geneva Williams, who leads the new Figure Skating in Detroit program. “You have coaches that come from all over the world here to coach. You have young people who come here from all over to learn how to skate and prepare for competitions including the Olympics. It’s a very receptive, vibrant figure skating community here in the regional area.”

The program works with girls of color ages 6-15 to teach leadership, engage them in tutoring, emphasize STEM education and financial literacy – and, of course, give them a chance to figure skate.

There are obvious barriers to access when it comes to figure skating in black communities, many of which Figure Skating in Detroit hopes to break through with its programs. Figure Skating in Detroit covers the cost of skates and skate maintenance, uniforms and the cost of ice-time, which could otherwise place a financial burden on families.

Throughout this year, Figure Skating in Detroit is holding various introductory workshops. Kevin Hudson, a single father of two girls, Kennedi and Layla, brought his daughters to the first workshop in February.

“Being in an African-American community, we’re not exposed to ice skating like that,” Hudson says. “It was directed toward leadership for young girls and it was something new that neither had ever done before. I wanted to expose them to something different and see how they handle it. Because in life, you’re going to have obstacles.”

The introductory workshops are meant to give girls and their families a taste of what this full-year after-school program is like. At the inaugural workshop, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis and international competitive skater Alissandra Aronow were on hand to help the girls out on the ice.

“My favorite part was when the older women were helping me ice skate. Every time I fell down they were helping me,” 8 year-old Kennedi says.

“Being able to have an opportunity to ice skate and have all these amazing women come out and spend their time to teach younger girls was my favorite part,” 14-year-old Layla adds.

Figure Skating in Detroit has plans to serve 300 girls this year through its workshops, day camps and after-school program – and also hopes to raise $1.5 million over the next thee years to continue to build and sustain the program.

“We want to bring together the various skating clubs around the regional area together with our girls and parents and community leaders in Detroit,” Williams says. “We want to do a lot of that collaboration and bringing together folk from different parts of the community who don’t perhaps normally interact with each other.

“It’s a gift for Detroit,” she adds. “I’m just terribly excited to be a part of it.”

The next introductory workshop is April 29. To register a young girl, visit figureskatingindetroit.org or call 313-962-1920.

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