Natty Bwoy classes

Katon Blackburn joins a group of kids as they skateboard around the old basketball court in Kenwood Community Park on Sunday, March 28. 

For many, TikTok is where they watch videos to learn life hacks or figure out their next Amazon purchase. For Isabelle, the social media platform is where she decided to learn how to skateboard. The 13-year-old found her new hobby in November, inspired by watching TikTok videos and listening to her favorite artist, Tyler The Creator. 

“I think it's cool to skate around and, you know, feel the breeze,” she said. 

Isabelle lives right across the street from Kenwood Park, 1330 E. 50th St.,  where she has been coming to skate since she started learning. But Sunday, March 28, was the first time she was surrounded by others also interested in educating themselves in the art of skateboarding. All of them were there for the free classes offered by Natty Bwoy Bikes and Boards, a skate shop opened last October by brothers Kahari, Kari and Katon Blackburn and their friend Carlos Cortes.

The skateboard classes in Kenwood, which are led by the shop's founders and instructor Juliana Gueno, happened organically. Katon, 23, says they’re an extension of services they offer at the shop. “It was just like, what else can we do around this brand that can also help with the community in some sort of way?”

Katon said that Kenwood Park, located right next to Shoesmith Elementary School, is sacred to him: He’d come to the park to practice all the time when he was first starting out. 

Though the classes are held at Kenwood Park, students come from multiple neighborhoods and surrounding areas to be part of the fun. Isabelle heard about the classes while at the park. “I actually was skating here, like the first time I skated it was here,” she said. “Someone invited me to come and I said, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll come!’ ”

Serena Simpson, meanwhile, drives all the way from Evanston on Sundays so that Miles, her son, can do more of what he loves. 

“We live in Evanston, but we used to live in Hyde Park. We actually met Kahari just down 53rd Street, we were just in the neighborhood,” she said. “Miles was skating around and Kahari just kindly asked him how long he’d been skating.” Simpson says making the 45-minute drive is worth it because it’s inspiring for her son to look up to young Black men that are positively impacting their community. 

Radhika brings her son, Ari, from Lincoln Park to sharpen his skateboarding skills. She learned about the classes from a friend on Facebook who is a Hyde Park resident. Radhika says she decided to bring Ari to the classes because he loves skateboarding. “I just made a quick trip to Target and bought (a board) like an hour before the class,” she said. “He really liked it, and it's a great way to get out of the neighborhood.” 

Katon says he had one family that biked to classes all the way from Wicker Park, “It was just cool to see that the word’s spreading around the city, not just in Hyde Park.” 

And location isn’t the only thing that’s diverse about the class: Katon says he’s had older students come to join in. “We've had all ranges honestly, so far, like kids as young, as three, four or five and as old as 65. This woman named Joy, who I haven't seen since spring, came to almost every class, which was really cool to see.”

The skateboarding classes are free for the sake of inclusion and diversity, Katon said. Loaner boards are also available to those who don’t have their own, or for anyone who wants to join the class impromptu. 

The shop itself, which is located in Boxville, 332 E. 51st St., is closed for the winter, but will be opening back up this spring. As for the future of the skateboarding classes, Katon says he would love to host competitions to give out free boards and possibly do some fundraising for the shop. 

The classes are offered every Sunday (weather permitting) from noon to 2 p.m. at Kenwood Park, 1330 E. 50th St. 

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