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Black History Laces Into Modern-Day Roller Skating Culture

HAYWARD (CBS SF) -- Roller skaters are trending all over social media, with a resurgence in the sport seen especially during the pandemic. These moves though have a long history stemmed in the culture and the history of the Black community in the Bay Area.

For one Bay Area man, known as the "Rollerdance Man," Richard Humphrey's skating moves have a five-decades legacy behind them.

The moves come with a groove that takes practice, technique and a passion to dance. A stage is set on outdoor courts every Sunday morning in Hayward's Weekes Community Park. And the sound of wheels hitting the ground is music to Humphrey's ears.

"I am good, well this is my breakfast on Sundays," Humphrey said.

Humphrey serves up his moves to skaters of all abilities, ages and backgrounds who show up for his weekly Rollerdance Academy class.

"My thing is to show people at any level can learn how to do this if you can break it down," explains Humphrey. "So my MO is that you have to break down. And my moto is simply this, you control the roll, don't let the roll control you."

There is more to these classes than teaching dance steps. It is a testament to the trials this man and other Black skaters had to overcome simply to do what they loved.

"We weren't allowed in rinks way back in the day," remembers Humphrey. "Even as we got into the 70s and 80s, we barely have a night to skate at the rink, so we would have to work hard to just get a night at the rink. And I am like, 'Why is it so difficult just to let us skate at a roller rink?'"

While doors were closed on Humphrey and his friends to skate on the hardwood, no one could take away what he felt in his heart.

"I saw the love everybody had when they put on 8-wheels and started skating," Humphrey said. "And that's all it was, was the love of that roll, you cant take that away from you. It is just that feel."

Humphrey quickly found all he needed was already within his grasp. That flow took him to just about any San Francisco outdoor patch of pavement.

"Our passion is so deep for skating that we just take what we get and we just go with the flow," Humphrey said. "And man, in '79 I hooked up with some guys at Golden Gate Park and we formed a group called the Golden Rollers."

The splits were Humphrey's signature move, the young man rollerdanced into the hearts of many, making a career of his hobby with live performances and being casted in television shows.

"That is what it is to me," Humphrey said. "It is a dance, it is an art form."

Self-taught, Humphrey created the brand of "Rollerdance" with a website ( He also made his mark with boot company, Reidell, with his "No Strings Attached" roller-skates.

Even at 69 years old, with two new knees, Humphrey, a legend in the roller-skating world, is still hitting the beat to share his love with anyone who is willing to roll with him.

"I am on OG now, I am reaching triple-OG status but I feel like a young guy with skates on," explains Humphrey.

It is with his old moves that a new generation can pick up the steps of a long legacy of culture, to roll on that history paved by the skaters of the past.

"This is not a fad for us, it is part of our life and it has always been part of our life," Humphrey said. "If something happens to me tomorrow, you still got it. We want to keep it going, we want to pass it down."

A journey that laces so many people, of all walks of life, together today.

"The freedom of skating is just free," Humphrey said. "You know, it is a freedom of expression and we all do it differently but it brings us all together. And that is what makes it so beautiful."

While progress has been made in the realm of acceptance in rollerskating rinks, there is still a lack of availability of accessible rinks. There is a push for more skate spaces in Oakland with a proposal of the Panther Skate Plaza at Defremary Park in west Oakland. Humphrey is hoping that more Parks & Rec and other centers open the doors as more people are picking up skates.

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