Published on 09.15.2021
Selema Masekela is an action sports icon, media personality, musician and entrepreneur. He has inspired a diverse generation of young athletes around the world. And continues to lead by showing us all how to stand up for what’s right — on and off the board.
Amplifying Black Stories All Year Long
Shaping The Future
How did you break into the world of action sports? Take us back to how it all started.
My first real break was getting a job as an intern and receptionist at Transworld Snowboarding and Skateboarding Magazine. That was the first place where I found people who were like-minded, but who actually had jobs. Then someone at ESPN saw me at MTV Sports Music Festival and they were like, 'Hmm. That guy. He's interesting. He’s different from the others'. I got a job as a sideline reporter at the 1999 Crested Butte, Colorado Winter X Games. I ended up having a 13 year sort of paid television education, where I learned broadcasting and journalism and storytelling. It has me here today.
How did you overcome the challenges due to the lack of diversity in your industry?
I spent a few too many years biting my lip, but if you bite your lip long enough, you'll start to bleed. And at a certain point, I realized that nobody can take this position from me. Even if I get fired. So I started to be vocal. I let people know when they were out of pocket. I, as constructively as possible, let my employers and the people I was working with know that they could do better in the type of storytelling that we were doing. I really started to figure out ways to advocate and shine a light on the fact that I don't want to be the only one here.
It’s hard to stay true in a steadfast industry. How do we start removing those barriers?
First you have to recognize that there's barriers in the first place. The surf industry, especially, and the snowboarding industry — are finally coming to grips with, “Oh, we’ve been hogging the playground, and we thought it was okay. We didn't think anyone else wanted to come and play here.” And that's been the part that people also are starting to realize.
They need to learn there is apprehension for BIPOC people to step into these places because people don't know if they're going to be safe. Not safe in how they're treated and how they're received in these spaces. Because for years, no one like them has gotten to play. That's the work that needs to be done, and I’m starting to see it happen. But we have a long way to go.
“There Is No Novelty In Being Seen As A Token.”
“I Dress For How I’m Going To Feel And Meet That Energy In How I Present Myself.”
You’ve created safe spaces for so many by being your true self. Did your style play a role in this?
There were different types of people in the audience that I always wanted to hit, and I wanted them to know that I was talking to them. So whether it was the way that I was rocking a beanie at a certain time or a piece that I was wearing that wasn't necessarily from an action sports company — instead it might've been a little hip-hop. I wanted the audience to be like, 'All right, he's one of us.' I wanted people to feel like I was actually in the crib with them as opposed to talking to them from up here. So, I would really try to be specific in different ways to hit that. I wanted them to know like, 'Oh, that's okay. He's down, he's of the culture, if you will.”
So, now when you wake up, how do you figure out what to wear for the day?
Lately, I'll mix something as simple as my Dockers khakis—they are a constant for me, if I'm going surfing, if I'm going skating — but I'm probably also going to have a very specific African fabric, like detailed hat custom made by my man, Bobby Joseph in Brooklyn, that I paired that with. So that there's a little bit of flare, continent flare, if you will. I can move through a bunch of different things in the day.
The definition of “success” is constantly changing. What does success mean to you today?
When you're coming up, there are so many people trying to put you in a box. So many people trying to tell you who you are and how you should be: criteria, criteria, criteria, if you want success. The thing that I would say to people is, 'Don't take as long as I did. Don't do the dance. Show up and be your entire and whole self, and if they're not going to see you, that just means they can't see you. But don't adjust yourself to be more visible for anybody else'. To me, that is success.
“Continue To Be Relentless About Telling Your Stories. Don't Be Afraid To Call Out The Spaces That Aren't Making Room For You.”
How are you bringing that forward into the next generation?
One of the things that I did have the opportunity to do was to start my foundation 15 years ago. Stoked, a mentoring organization for Black and brown kids in New York, Chicago, and LA, to give kids an opportunity to have their lives empowered by the principles of these sports.
To see what happens when a kid who normally only gets to see things, perhaps, from the perspective of his block and those who came before him. What happens when he's able to go out and be challenged by a new environment? He learns how to socialize differently. He learns how to fall down, and get back up. So by the time these kids graduate high school, they know who they want to be as a person.
What advice would you like to provide to the children of Stoked right now?
Maintain who you are, don't dilute your experience for anyone else. What this generation has that I didn't have was the ability to tell your story on a multitude of different platforms. I had to fight, to get permission, to get access to someone to turn a lens on me. But this generation has the ability to turn the lens on themselves and on others and tell their stories.
I would say continue to be relentless about telling your stories, and don't be afraid to call out the spaces that aren't making room for you. And don't wait to be given room, take the space.
Stoked seems to be a big part of your legacy, but what else do you want your legacy to be?
A big part for me in the last couple of years has been to expand people's desire to interact with African culture, with the continent, if you will. We recently put together this book called AFROSURF, that tells stories throughout the continent in various ways in which African culture and surfing interact. It teaches people that surfing has been something that African people and Black people have been doing for thousands of years, but we just haven't been told about.
As far as my legacy is concerned, I would like to be known as someone who was interested in telling real stories, someone who was interested and invested in helping the community.
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