By Nick Diamantides
Photo from mikevallely.comIf Michael Keith Green was watching from Heaven, he had to be smiling. Sunday, Jan. 17 was the day of the grand opening of a skate park named in his honor. The celebration was designed to make the public aware of the recent expansion and improvement of the skating facility that has existed on 14th Street between Pine and Pacific avenues for several years.
Former Long Beach City Councilman Mike Donelon was one of the lead organizers in the establishment of the skate park and continues his involvement in the creation of skate parks as an alternative to gang violence.
Late last summer, in response to the expressed wishes of the community surrounding the park, Donelon began asking city officials to rename the 14th Street Skate Park after Green. Early in that process, Donelon spoke at the September meeting of the Long Beach Commission on Youth. “During that meeting, I discussed our efforts at the 14th Street Skate Park. I pointed out violent crime had decreased by 30 percent and misdemeanor crime decreased by 60 percent (in that section of the city) since the park opened,” Donelon said. “We are proud our efforts are causing kids to jump in a skate park not a gang, and pick up skateboards and not guns.”
Donelon noted that Green was widely known and recognized as one of Long Beach’s up-and-coming pro skaters. Green was born in Paramount in 1984, but he grew up in Central Long Beach and attended Renaissance High School. “Mike was a sensitive, well-mannered kid that always cared about others,” Donelon said. “He was known to be humorous, polite and respectful.”
The former councilman explained that Green pursued skateboarding as an alternative to the destructive lifestyles he grew up observing “Over the years, Mike’s potential as a skater became known citywide,” Donelon said. “In a short time, he became an influence to many kids around him. The local skateboard industry recognized his talent, and he became sponsored by rapper Pharrell Williams’s skate team and Vans Shoes.”
As promising as the young skater’s life was, it was cut short on April 9, 2005. On that day, Green, who was then 20, was taking off his shoes after skateboarding on the 2000 block of Olive Avenue. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong spot to do so. Members of two rival gangs opened fire on each other. Green, who was not affiliated with any gang, died in the crossfire. Four men were later arrested and convicted of the killing and are currently serving sentences in a state prison.
Green’s family, friends and fans were devastated by his death. For several years, many of them had been talking of asking the city to rename the 14th Street Skate Park in his honor. A few months ago, with Donelon’s help, those who knew and loved Green started a petition drive for the renaming of the park. More than 1,000 people signed the petition.
“Most are from 90813,” Donelon said. “What’s really cool is we asked the age of those signing the petition. They are from six to 75.” He added that in his 25 years of community involvement, he had never seen a park named after a local youth and he had never seen such a groundswell of support from a local community for renaming a park.
Several hundred people attended the park’s grand opening on Sunday. Several elected and appointed officials addressed the audience during the event. “This is a great day for the city, and it’s a great day for all the young people who want to have recreational alternatives,” said Mayor Bob Foster. “They designed it. It’s theirs. Use it well. Use it in good health. This is the beginning of a new day for this area.”
Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, the former 1st District Long Beach councilwoman, also addressed the crowd. (The skate park in is District 1.) “The young people designed this new skate park,” she said. “What’s important is that you asked and we in government listened.” She encouraged young and old alike to take the time to make their needs and wishes known to their elected officials. “When your desires are fulfilled, then we have done our job,” she added.
The skate park is only one parcel of the 14th Street greenbelt that runs from Long Beach Boulevard to Magnolia Avenue. Lowenthal praised all the neighborhood groups and community activists who had worked with city officials for many years to renovate the median to provide recreational activities for residents in that part of the city.
Current 1st District City Councilman Robert Garcia also spoke to the crowd. “One of the users of this park before it was rebuilt was a young, real inspirational person to this community,” Garcia said. “His name was Michael Green. He was an avid skater, and a shining light to this community and to his family.”
After Garcia’s comments, Green’s mother Loretta King addressed the audience. She thanked all those involved in the petition drive. “On behalf of my family and friends, we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts,” she said. “You can do anything you want to do. Just believe and go forward to achieve your goals. Stay out of trouble and help stop the violence.”
The grand opening also included demonstrations by professional skaters and BMX pro riders.
During its Jan. 20 meeting, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to officially rename the facility the Michael K. Green Skate Park.