MINNEAPOLIS — The Great Northern Festival kicks off this week throughout the Twin Cities metro, featuring events that cater to winter enthusiasts. In the meantime, Melanin in Motion remains focused on their mission of making sure those "enthusiasts" can include everyone.
“Melanin in Motion is really a community-based program where we’re really working hard to connect primarily communities of color to outdoor adventure opportunities. And we have a really particular focus on winter sports because it’s very much part of the culture of Minnesota,” said Anthony Taylor just as he was preparing to hit the hills of Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis.
‘Who’s not here?’
In 2016, Taylor co-founded Melanin in Motion with Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson as an extension of the outreach started in the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.
The goal? Make sure even the snow-covered spots in our community became level playing fields. Taylor himself noted the lack of diversity within winter sports when he started snowboarding. But he especially recognized the disparity when the now 63-year-old athlete watched his children become more interested in winter sports.
“When my kids started being part of the community, I really felt like it was important to have more Black children, more Brown children as part of that community to realize the benefit of that kind of cultural way of being in a sport… I saw something to solve,” Taylor told KARE 11’s Karla Hult.
Essentially, Taylor continued, Melanin in Motion began by asking a critical question.
“Who’s not out here?’ is maybe a better way of thinking about it. And so I really think that we are very focused on Black and Brown families. We’re very focused on moderate to low-income families. We’re very focused on girls and women,” Taylor said, adding that: “We want to remove the ability to guess the gender, age, sex, income of a snowboarder when they show up at the bottom of a hill.”
Removing the barriers
Whether you’re a winter enthusiast or simply a Minnesotan living in the state, most realize the cost of participating in some of the most popular winter sports. Taylor himself quickly addresses that economic reality.
“The typical cost for a young person to try snowboarding or alpine skiing for one day is somewhere between $75 and $100. And if you’re going to learn, one of the things we learned is you gotta commit to go three times, because the first day is the worst day,” Taylor said, adding: “So you’re looking at an expense, without equipment – just to learn – of $300 to $400. That’s exorbitant. And it’s a decision that you will often say ‘no’ to in the scope of decisions you’re making for your child’s wellbeing.”
But Melanin in Motion seeks to “solve those challenges,” Taylor said, by offering lessons within easily accessible parks, like Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis. They also communicate to families that lessons cost “15 dollars or pay what you can.” And, perhaps most significantly, Taylor said, they make sure “representation meets you at the parking lot.”
“Our coaches, our organizers, are Black, Brown and women. That makes a huge difference,” Taylor said, adding that welcoming the entire family to the experience – and not just the individual athlete – further supports and encourages participation.
“That actually makes a lot of sense to most Black, Brown communities that we work in, that building communities informs what we do and why we exist,” Taylor said.
‘Make winter as part of our racial reckoning’
And that’s when Melanin in Motion’s mission also touches on one directly benefitting the greater community of Minnesota.
“I’m going to say space is segregated in American, no matter how we face it, it just is,” Taylor said, while overlooking the activity of arrivals at Theodore Wirth.
Within the opportunity of learning more about winter sports – snowboarding or skiing – Taylor and other organizers say children, especially, will start reconsidering where they “belong.”
“In many regards, what we’re doing is we are expanding young people’s expectations of where they belong. I think that is something that has always been amazing to me, that at what age young people actually understand the spaces that are not for them,” he said.
And that’s especially important, he said, when it comes to our community’s individual and collective health, given the benefits of being in nature and given both our recent and distant past.
“Ultimately, in terms of people’s wellbeing, the ability to build resilience, the ability to be a collaborative human being – all of these are things you can develop by connecting to outdoors,” he said, adding: “That’s really what equity is, right? Is that we want all of our citizens – regardless of race, income, gender – to realize the benefits of those things that we believe are most important.”
“We can make winter as part of our racial reckoning as well,” Taylor said.
Three sisters at Theo Wirth
And lest you think joy can’t be found within something so intentional and profound, the Medas sisters gathered atop a Theodore Wirth hill to demonstrate the skills and resilience they’ve learned through the organization’s efforts.
“It’s fun, it’s fun,” said 10-year-old Candaisy Medas, about her snowboarding lessons.
“I like how we go downhill,” added 13-year-old Charytee Medas, who’s also learning from her big sister, 16-year-old Caymeann Medas, who’s graduated to “coach” within the program.
As for Caymeann, she recalls the conversations she now has with friends.
“They’re like, ‘You snowboard?’ They’re like pretty surprised,” she laughed, also revealing that the sport has changed her feelings about winter.
“First we came here, it was cold and stuff like that. But then, I started snowboarding,” Caymeann recalled, adding: “And I feel more comfortable in the snow.”
To learn more about participating in or supporting Melanin in Motion’s opportunities, just click here.
And to learn more about all the events involved in the Great Northern Festival – that runs Jan. 25 to Feb. 5 – just click here
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