Letter to the U.S. Embassy in South AfricaPosted in In the News, Project Blog by Juvie
Thank you so much for chatting with me earlier today.
I’m a roller derby player and lawyer from the U.S. visiting South Africa for a month. I recently learned of the ZAZI campaign here in South Africa (http://www.zazi.orgl) and I was immediately struck by its connection to roller derby. The campaign is designed to create a movement encouraging women to define their own values and path in life. Roller derby is the community in South Africa where that movement is already in full swing.
I started playing roller derby in the U.S. over four years ago and it completely changed my life. Three years ago, some local Johannesburg girls started a derby league here (the first in all of Africa) and every woman who plays the sport in this country will tell you the experience has transformed her life as well. I hear over and over again that finding the roller derby community and participating in this challenging sport has given these women confidence, strength, and self knowledge they never had before, and a support network that helps them feel safe and encouraged to better understand themselves and to make positive life changes.
Now there are leagues in Johannesburg (http://www.cmaxrollerderby.com), Cape Town (you mentioned you had seen the CNN piece on this league), Durban, Bloemfontein and Grahamstown. The leagues are all coordinating to put together a team that will travel to compete in the Roller Derby World Cup Championship next year in Dallas, Texas (World Cup). They’re holding tryouts early next year.
Additionally, the Johannesburg league is currently working with a local arts promoter in Soweto to plan an exhibition game in the township to raise awareness of the sport and encourage girls from the township to get involved. They are organizing programs to help offset the costs of gear and to coordinate safe and free transportation for the skaters to and from training.
Though apartheid is ended, the racial divide is still evident in South Africa. But roller derby is uniquely situated and capable of bridging that divide and helping women of any color, of any social or economic status, of any category or orientation to be better, stronger, more authentic human beings. I can’t underscore enough the truly universal power of the sport.
The astounding global growth of the sport is testament to its universal appeal and its transformative ability. In just the last 7 years, roller derby has gone from only a handful of leagues in the U.S. to nearly 1300 leagues in over 40 countries around the world. Women everywhere are finding that roller derby has a tremendous empowering effect on their lives. And not just their own personal lives, but their families and communities as well.
Two years ago, because of my own huge life change, I started a multi-media project to explore the global impact of roller derby — how the women of the sport are changing themselves and their worlds — called Flat Track Around the World.
Earlier this year I was asked to give a TEDx talk on the topic, which explains the effect the sport is having on women all around the world: TEDx.
I’ve come to South Africa to skate with the leagues here, get to know the women involved, explore the issues these women face and learn how roller derby is impacting them and helping them overcome obstacles in their lives. Roller derby is still small in South Africa, but it’s thriving and growing rapidly. You can read my most recent blog post about the sport in Johannesburg here: Post from the Road.
Any help these ladies could get — through funding, logistics, or even just help raising awareness — could do wonders for women all over South Africa.
As a derby player from the U.S., where roller derby began (see Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), I very much have the sense of being an ambassador for the sport and, by proxy, for the U.S. as a country. Roller derby is one of the most positive cultural exports the U.S. has produced in recent memory. We have shared an awesome and powerful gift. I hope we can help it continue to grow and improve the lives of women and girls all around the world.
I know many people must be out of the office for the holidays. I really appreciate you forwarding this information to whomever may have a few minutes to meet with me and learn more about how the sport is growing and developing in this country.
I’ll be in Johannesburg until the 27th, then I’m traveling to skate with the league in Cape Town until January 10th. Please feel free to contact me by email or at (081) 709-0592 or (061) 475-1959.
(aka Juvie Hall, #419)