Editor’s Note: RollinBuckeyez Foundation is one of 36 nonprofits participating in Cleveland’s first citywide Giving Tuesday campaign — powered by WISH Cleveland. Find out how you can donate and participate in this cause, which seeks to create a more equitable future in our city, here.
By day, you’re likely to find Kenneth Perdue at the top of a telephone pole fixing lines for AT&T. But his passion is with two feet on the ground, preferably with eight wheels spinning beneath him.
Perdue is the founder and executive director of RollinBuckeyez Foundation, a nonprofit that brings roller skating to communities to encourage healthy lifestyles and family bonding. What began as casual Friday night skates in Voinovich Bicentennial Park near the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame evolved into small skating events geared toward adults. But kids didn’t want to see their parents having all the fun.
“The kids wanted more out of me,” Perdue shares. “They said, ‘What are you gonna do for us?’”
Perdue’s event calendar grew, and New Year’s Eve lock-ins and small get-togethers expanded to include meals, book bags full of school supplies and a chance to meet “Skatin’ Santa” around the holidays – experiences not guaranteed for many participants. Now, RollinBuckeyez brings their H.E.A.L. (Health, Exercise, Arts, Literacy) curriculum, and a fleet of 75 pairs of skates, elbow pads and knee pads to schools, parks and street events all over the city.
During the five-week program, children learn the fundamentals of skating. If they reach 125,000 steps by the end of the program (recorded thanks to the Fitbits given to each child), they can keep their skates and helmet.
While practicing healthy exercise habits – roller skating at 10 mph for an hour burns 300 to 600 calories – kids also learn choreographed dances to popular Michael Jackson tracks. Boot covers allow for self-expression as the kids are encouraged to draw on their skates to make them their own. Beyond the skating curriculum, participants find a supportive role model in Perdue.
“I get calls in the middle of the night from siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and kids that skate asking for advice,” says Perdue. “They say, ‘Ken, you’re the glue. We need you.’ I know I’m the person the community looks to, and I set out to do this not only to prove it to myself, but [to] do this for my family.”
From his childhood roots on East 66th, Perdue sees the importance of programs like RollinBuckeyez for urban communities, but he wants to avoid being typecast.
“I’m a product of the inner city, and I’m going to do whatever it takes for those communities regardless,” Perdue shares. “But I don’t want the organization to be identified as for ‘at-risk, low-income youth,’ or for roller skating to be seen just by the black community. I want it to be for everyone.”
Perdue’s all-inclusive vision for the future includes growing the RollinBuckeyez inventory of skates to serve more people, as well as investing in their own portable, multi-purpose flooring that can be used in more schools and recreational centers on a larger scale. While these entities say they love the RollinBuckeyez programs, their gym floors are not an ideal surface for skating.
The ultimate goal, however, is to secure a large indoor/outdoor space dedicated to roller skating in downtown Cleveland. While Perdue has made many positive strides, he faces pushback from city officials regarding location of such a venue as well as his target audience. He’s been asked to consider using parks or tennis courts tucked away in Eastside, inner-city neighborhoods, but this veers from Perdue’s big picture plan of uniting communities, regardless of which side of the river you call home.
“I want to bring families together in an intergenerational, diverse social environment,” says Perdue, “and be able to skate, listen to good music and enjoy the ambiance of our city.”
As a husband and father of two boys, Perdue sees opportunities for families to connect like this as a top priority. Regardless of the challenges ahead, he’s determined to keep on rollin’.