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Skateboard Diplomacy

Skateboard Diplomacy

First-year Full-Time MBA student Miles Jackson brings skills and a global mindset to Cuban youth through skateboarding.

Skateboard Diplomacy
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What’s an “ollie,” a “heelflip” or a “switch flip” have to do with social entrepreneurship and global diplomacy?” A lot if you’re Miles Jackson, a first-year student in Marshall’s Full-Time MBA program who is the driving force behind Cuba Skate, a nonprofit organization that brings a humanitarian mission to Cuban youth – via skateboards, tools, cooperative skills and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“Skateboarding brings people from around the world together,” said Jackson. “And the community is incredibly generous. We are giving Cuban youth the tools to skate through life.”

Cuba Skate aims to help develop a new generation of leaders that are better equipped to tackle challenges in their own lives and connect their local and global communities

Cuba Skate’s projects have garnered the support of the global skateboarding community, as well as endorsements from brands such as Adidas, EA Sports and Stance Socks. It has received support from the foundations of celebrity skateboarders such as Tony Hawk’s Skatepark Project. Jackson, who has been to Cuba more than 100 times since his first visit as a college student in 2010, has been invited to give TEDX TALKS on his work.

“I realized a few years ago that I needed an MBA so I had the business vocabulary and an operational understanding of where we could take Cuba Skate,” said Jackson. “I looked at a few schools, but Marshall is based in Los Angeles, and that’s pretty much ground zero for the skateboard world,” he said. He appreciated the Trojan Family network as well.

"Skateboarding As A Passport To A Global Culture": Miles Jackson's TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet

Over the Thanksgiving break, he took seven of his cohort to Cuba for a cultural immersion, beach clean-up, and of course, delivering skateboard components to the skater kids of Cuba.

“My classmates were thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer with Cuba Skate and to travel to Cuba – a place few other Americans have ever been. I think it’s profoundly important for them to see life on the island, to dispel myths and stereotypes about our closest Caribbean neighbor, and to activate their networks to support the programs we’ve established on the ground.”

“Skateboarding brings people from around the world together, and the community is incredibly generous.”

— Miles Jackson

Skateboard Diplomacy

Jackson grew up in Washington DC and studied American Culture and Spanish at the University of Michigan and imagined he might become a librarian or an archivist. An avid soccer player, an injury sidelined him, and as he recovered from surgery, he turned to skateboarding as a way to get back outside and moving.

He had no idea that the three-months he spent studying in Cuba during his senior year would be the start of a passion-project that would bind him to the country well into his 30s.

There were no skate shops in Cuba. Young enthusiasts couldn’t simply go out and buy a new board or skate shoes. Nevertheless they created unique workarounds to keep their boards in working order and shared their resources with each other.

“I returned home and couldn’t stop thinking about the kids I met there and their passion for skateboarding,” he recalled. “In Cuba, there’s a saying, ‘do more with less,” and these kids certainly did that. As an American, it was humbling—and inspiring.” At 25 he quit his government job in health and human services to pursue his mission via Cuba Skate full time.

In the 10 years since incorporating as a 501(c3) nonprofit, Cuba Skate has worked with more than 450 volunteers from 25 countries. It’s been endorsed by more than 200 professional skateboarders, and pretty much every skate shop approached volunteers to donate equipment, said Jackson. Cuba Skate has brought over and donated more than 15,000 pairs of shoes, 9,500 skate decks and 17,500 articles of clothing to Cuba, all of it taken piecemeal in luggage since importing is not allowed under current American trade restrictions with Cuba (the nonprofit operates in compliance with the American and Cuban governments and maintains unique permissions with the U.S. State Department to fund and operate as a humanitarian program in Cuba, according to Jackson.)

It has also expanded its mission to include beach and river cleanups, harvesting the collected plastics and remolding them into “eco-madera” (recycled plastic lumbers) which become benches and tables—that are 100 percent skateable—for the skatepark the community is building with permission in an abandoned site.

Jackson hopes the business skills he learns at Marshall will help him grow the mission of Cuba Skate because there is nothing less than peace at hand. “Nelson Mandela said that sports has the power to change the world,” said Jackson. “He said it has the power to unite people and speaks to the youth in a language they understand.

“This is at the heart of what Cuba Skate is working for,” he said.

Learn more about Cuba Skate at their WEBSITE or watch the DC SHOES: CUBA SKATE short documentary.