The Collective Philadelphia Teaches Kids How To Safely Shred
When I was in middle school, one of my friends had a half pipe on the second floor of his dad’s garage. In addition to skating, it was also the place where a few of us had our first experience with underage drinking (probably malt-liquor). Needless to say, with little parental supervision at times… well, kids will be kids.
The Collective Philadelphia (TCP), located inside the Loom building (3245 Amber St.), reminds me of my friend’s loft, only without the teenage angst and 40 oz. bottles. It’s a place where kids from all over the city can safely learn skateboarding under the supervision of professionals. A.J. Kohn is a professional skater and enthusiast of the sport. He’s one of the founders of TCP and, along with fellow skater Rod “The Ancient” Watkins, is living out his dream of running a space to teach neighborhood kids how to shred.
The space is primarily used for skateboarding, but Kohn’s wife, who is an acrobat herself, uses the space to teach acrobatics classes. According to Kohn, TCP will accommodate just about any crazy themed idea you can come up with.
“It’s kind of like it’s own black box theater,” Kohn said. “You can change it into anything you want.”
He says TCP has hosted weddings and even a Survivor-themed birthday party since opening February 2015.
Both Kohn and Watkins enjoyed success in the skateboarding industry, but as they got older they both felt like it was time to give back to the community. Kohn and Watkins were very influential in getting skateparks installed around the city — including the one at Pop’s Playground in East Kensington. According to Kohn, he teamed up with other skate enthusiasts and raised $20,000 from local businesses, the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund and a grant from the legendary Tony Hawk. This successful fundraising caught the eye of then-Mayor John Street who gave Kohn’s group a charitable donation of $1 million (in supersized check form) to build other skate parks. Some chance encounters with Jesse Rendell, a fellow extreme sports enthusiast and son of Ed Rendell, at FDR Park led to the governor freeing up $1 million of state money to match Street’s gift.
With $2 million dollars and a green light to promote skateboarding in Philadelphia, Kohn and Watkins had gone from skaters being chased out of Love Park to building communities through the sport they love.
Today Kohn works for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to develop and promote skateboarding throughout Philadelphia. The Collective Philadelphia is another way for him to teach kids not only how to skateboard, but how to use the sport to become civically engaged. Kohn believes that while it may be nice to have a skatepark in your neighborhood, it takes devotion to ensure it’s future. He teaches some basic carpentry and masonry skills to kids so they know how to maintain their neighborhood park.
“We’ve got to make sure these kids know how to act and that this is theirs to make or break,” Kohn said.
The Collective Philadelphia has also teamed up with five local schools to offer skateboarding and acrobatics educational programs to school children at the space. “[These schools] were on a limited budget, so we made it work,” Kohn said. Each school received five skateboarding programs and five acrobatics programs each with 50-70 children attended each class. “We kind of guided them and helped them learn how to grind,” Kohn said.
Kohn and Watkins both admit they are fortunate to still make a portion of their livelihood through skateboarding. However, they teach kids that they need to have something to fall back on, noting that pro skateboarding is a tough industry to make it in.
“The sponsors look at you as an advertising machine and they’re trying to get every aspect of you as long as you can,” Kohn said. “As soon as you don’t become marketable anymore, you’re a disposable hero.”
The Collective Philadelphia is a place for Kohn and Watkins to live out their dream, but seeing kids they taught at a young age teaching even younger kids is the biggest reward for them. It affirms that the duo aren’t disposable heros and punks unwilling to grow up, but actual role models.
“All the things that makes them successful skateboarders transcends to real life,” Kohn said. “It becomes an incubator for something that could grow into something bigger.”