Kellee Wright has been coming to the Zelma George Roller Skating Rink, in Mount Pleasant, ever since she was a girl. Today, it’s Mother’s Day, and she’s here with her two sons and niece.
"Skating means to me being active, working out a little bit, having fun and family time with whoever you’re with," she says.
Moms skate free this afternoon, and Kellee - who works as a security guard, with hopes of becoming a prison officer - is about to tie on a pair of old-school roller skates. You know the kind: tan-leather, red wheels, big raggedy laces.
"I always make sure they real tight, so that way when I’m skating around they won’t fall off or twist my ankle," she says.
She’s ready to go, and rolls out onto the shiny hardwood floor with her kids.
On this episode, we hear from two moms who grew up in Mount Pleasant, coming to the Zelma George Skating Rink. Even though neither one of them lives here anymore, this rink is a place they come back to again and again.
We hear their stories of skating, both as kids and as moms - and why they’re planning to keep coming back, no matter where they move.
Kelly Wright: I Love This Rink
Kellee Wright seems like the kind of person who’s usually in a good mood. She smiles and laughs a lot, likes to post videos of herself singing on her Snapchat. Plus, it’s Mother’s Day, and she’s a mom, so she’s star for the day.
She’s also at one of her favorite places in Cleveland. Kellee grew up in Mount Pleasant and Buckeye, and for her, Zelma George Roller Skating Rink isn’t just a fun place to hang out. If her childhood were made into a movie, this would be one of the primary locations. A place where she has fond memories, of friendship and laughter.
"I used to come here when I was a kid," she says. "It was just something active to do. I can remember coming here with my friends, us just skating and having fun and buying stuff and doing the little activity they do at the end: Tug of war."
Even though she lives in the Glenville neighborhood now, she comes back to Zelma George a lot. Not just to give her kids those same opportunities for fun - but to stay in touch with a part of her history and herself.
"Like, me even choosing to still come to this skating rate and introducing my kids is me being attached," she says. "Me still coming to the swimming pool is still being attached. It’s just what I’m familiar with. If I could choose any skating rink to go to it would be this one. I love this skating rink."
She’s considering moving from Glenville to another neighborhood, maybe even back to Mount Pleasant.
"Growing up in this neighborhood was kinda ghetto," she says. "But I believe it has gotten better over the years. You can actually go to the park and not deal with shooting or nothing like that. So it’s better than when I was younger."
Wherever she goes, though, it won’t be too far away. Like, probably not to the suburbs.
"Though the places I grew up was a little ghetto, a little ratchet, a little violence, you cling to where you come from, you know what I’m saying?" she says. "I’m kinda street, so I know how to handle myself in these environments just period. So i ain’t the type of person that would move too far from family and the area I stayed in. 'Cuz still, no matter what it is, you feel more comfortable where you’re from."
Chandon Singleton: Like Being on Vacation
Chandon Singleton works at the Cleveland Cavaliers Team Shop in downtown Cleveland. She’s got six kids, ranging in age from seven months to 11 years.
"I used to be a skater but now I’m not due to the fact that every time I fall, my 11-year-old daughter records me, so I gave it up," she says with a laugh.
Like Kellee Wright, she was raised in this neighborhood, and even though she doesn’t live here anymore, she keeps coming back to this rink.
"Honestly speaking, there’s plenty of skating rinks we can go to, [but] I like this one 'cuz it’s affordable and they do little things on social media - little raffles, you can win a birthday party," she says. "[So it's] more towards the people who can’t afford to go to the nicer skating rinks with the laser tag and stuff like that. I choose to come here 'cuz me, I have six kids and it’s hard for me to pay $20 a kid to go to a skating rink that's got the laser tag when we can have same amount of fun here as we do there."
For her and her kids, coming to Zelma George is like taking a vacation without having to leave the city.
"When I bring 'em here, they think that we’re basically like gone out of town, we’re having fun," she says. "We’re enjoying ourselves, 'cuz it's not only a skating rink but a track, a basketball court and the boxing upstairs. So it’s more to it than just the skating thing.
She says all those activities are a good way to keep her kids out of trouble.
"It’s very easy for them nowadays watching TV and social media and being around friends, trouble can find people everywhere," she says. "So I feel like if you spend more time with your kids and showing them different ways to have fun versus just sitting at home, they stay out of trouble."
She says her own mom brought her to Zelma George, trying to model positive ways of having fun. And it worked, at least until she got to high school.
"You know how your mom would give you an age limit where you could have a relationship? No, I didn’t. I seen a boy, he was my best friend, and I went behind her back and started dating him," she says. "It led to us having a child, then it led to us having three kids together. I stayed in school but I also wanted a boyfriend 'cuz my friends had boyfriends."
She may have been too young, she says, but she doesn’t for a second regret becoming a mom.
"It’s everything," she says. "I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Like I have six kids, I wake up to my kids, I eat, sleep, and breathe my kids. I don’t know if i’d be the same person today if it wasn’t for them."
Unlike Kellee Wright, Chandon is planning to move to the suburbs - Garfield Heights, to be exact, where she feels the schools are better and the streets safer. She’s tired of the violence in her neighborhood, and of her kids asking tough questions about what they see.
"[They ask], 'Why those teddy bears there?' or, 'Why them balloons wrapped around the tree?' You know, I can’t give another answer but someone lost their life there due to violence."
But moving doesn’t mean she’ll stop caring about the neighborhoods where she grew up.
"Some people can’t afford to live in the nicer places," she says. "They shouldn’t have to live in those places scared to go to sleep or scared to be in their living room or anything."
She adds: "It is trouble here, but we don’t have to give in to the negativity and all the violence, so they could stay out of the street like I did, coming to the skating rink like I did."
From talking to these two moms, it’s pretty clear to me that Zelma George is a lot more than just a skating rink. It’s a constant, a place where traditions like tug-of-war at the end of a skate session, hot dogs for sale at the concession stand - they haven’t changed for decades, and they draw families back generation after generation.
It’s also a retreat, a place to laugh and be safe, a place where no matter how complicated life gets - you can have, in Chandon Singleton’s words, a vacation without leaving town.
All you need is a couple bucks, a pair of skates, a few friends - and pretty soon, you’ll be laughing.