Legacy Lives On: a Conversation with Jessica Forsyth – Executive director of Harold Hunter Foundation

If you’ve been even vaguely curious about NYC skate history, without a doubt Harold Hunter’s name has come up. Harold was a staple in the community during the early 90’s. Since his passing, his friends and family have organized Harold Hunter Foundation in his honor. We chatted with with Jessica Forsyth – Executive director of Harold Hunter Foundation in Issue 007 of our magazine. Read the interview below, and get a hard copy here. All photos by Gunars Elmuts

 

What is Harold Hunter Foundation?
HHF is a grassroots nonprofit skate community-based organization whose goal is to provide a network of support, resources, and advocacy for skateboarders in NYC (and beyond), so they can achieve educational, occupational, and personal success. We advance our mission, “to use skateboarding as a vehicle to provide underserved youth with valuable life experiences that nurture individual creativity, resourcefulness, and the development of life skills” by leveraging our credibility within, and the unique assets of, the skateboarding culture/community to provide organic mentorship, support, guidance, and workforce readiness training to a population that is among those least likely to participate in organized adult-led activities, to help them successfully navigate the critical transition from adolescence to adulthood.

 

 

How did you get involved in the foundation?
We grew up in the Lower East Side and my sister was Harold’s best friend. I remember the day they met right in front of our house on St. Marks Place in the late ‘80s like it was yesterday – I was watching out our kitchen window. After that day, Harold pretty much adopted our family and became a fixture in our house. He kind of made our house a personal clubhouse for him and his crew of Skate NYC skaters who would hang out at our house most days when my sister got home from school. He would often happen by right at dinner time LOL.

 

There was one summer when my sister was away working at a sleep-away camp and Harold came by to eat dinner with my family many nights a week, usually with Steven Cales in tow, even though my sister wasn’t there. He celebrated pretty much all major holidays and special events with us, we even had a Christmas stocking for him. My sister and Harold had a really beautiful friendship and he would often introduce both of us to people as his sisters.

 

When Harold died, some friends of his who were organizing his funeral created a gmail account that we use to this day: haroldhunterfoundation@gmail.com and a PayPal account to raise funds. When the funeral was over they came to our family and said that they wanted the foundation to be a real thing and they trusted us to make it a reality. The names on the incorporation filing for HHF are my sister, Ronald Hunter (Harold’s older brother), and Jefferson Pang. We had board elections in January 2007 and sent our first 2 kids to camp in 2007. I’ve been involved since the very beginning, but took on the lead role in programming starting in 2010 and officially took on the title of Executive Director in 2013.

 

 

What was Harold Hunter to New York?
Harold was a truly iconic and legendary figure both to the local NYC downtown culture and in the global skateboarding community. He was the funniest person in the world, he absolutely loved people and made friends with anyone/everyone no matter what their background, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status. He loved without limits and would give his friends the shirt off his back. People who hung out with Harold for a few days considered him their best friend because he was that charismatic and engaging and loving. But he was also a really complex and imperfect person who struggled with a lot of pain. There’s really no way for me to do justice to the brilliance of Harold and his impact on NYC skateboarding and NYC in general with mere words. There is and will never be anyone like Harold.

 

 

What does the New York skate scene mean to you?
Although I am not a skater myself, I have been connected to the NYC skate community for over 30 years. I think the NYC skate community is the best in the world. It’s a diverse, beautiful, vibrant community of fearless, funny, brilliant, creative people from all around the world. Like Harold, it’s not perfect, of course. I have so much love and respect for this community.

 

 

How do women get involved with HHF on and off the board?
It’s been absolutely amazing watching the growth of the women/girls skate scene in NYC. Women and the Queer skaters are truly driving so much of the activism and community engagement that is happening in the NYC skate scene. In the last year, we went from me being the only woman on staff to have about a third of our staff being women, which is so exciting for us. We’re still a small, but growing, organization with a limited budget, so we don’t have a ton of jobs, but we’re always looking to connect with, support, and collaborate women in the scene who are making things happen as volunteers or in running their own collectives, initiatives, projects, and events. Women can reach out to us through our website if they want to volunteer, be a part of our programs, or get support from HHF for something they want to do for the skate community.

 

 

What’s the future of HHF?
We have a brilliant staff – each and every one of whom is a skateboarder (except for me, but I promised my 3-year-old son I’d learn to skate with him). Even our social worker and lawyer are skateboarders. We’re all working as hard as we can to grow and expand the organization and the support, resources, advocacy, and opportunity we can provide to the NYC skate community. The future of HHF will always be by skateboarders for skateboarders and I hope that in a few year’s time a skateboarder will be doing my job!

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