Using talents, making a difference

Four skate decks designed by Jeremy Higgins

JCCC student Jeremy Higgins collaborated last year with Sean Daley, anthropology professor and director of the Center for American Indian Studies, on a skateboard, left, designed for the youths of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. The design incorporates names of treaties and battles involving the Lakota, who now reside on Pine Ridge. Under an honors contract course last fall, Higgins created art for three additional skateboards to represent tribes in other areas of the country; from second left are his designs for Southeast/Southern Plains, Southwest and Pacific Northwest skateboards.

Johnson County, with its affluence and opportunity, is worlds away from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.

A JCCC student is reaching out to the reservation, with a skateboard.

Jeremy Higgins, a graphic artist, designed a skateboard with the youths of Pine Ridge in mind after taking an anthropology class last spring.

The course – Native Americans (Anth 134), taught by Sean Daley – included a discussion of life on reservations and the bleak outlook perceived by many Native youths, which contributes to a high rate of suicide and suicide attempts. 

Daley shared what he had learned of a project that has shown great success in drawing youths away from the negativity of the reservation: skateboarding. A video of a skateboarding event promoted by that friend, Walt Pourier, set the wheels in motion for Higgins’ project.

Higgins approached Daley about designing a skateboard to donate to Wounded Knee Skateboards, of which Pourier, who grew up on Pine Ridge, is creative director. The organization promotes creation of skate parks and provides skateboards to youths on reservations.

“I researched a little more outside of class and realized the impact that youth skateboarding is making” on reservations, Higgins said. “I wanted to be a part of this positive force.”

Higgins and Daley collaborated on the skateboard design. Daley set up an honors contract last fall for Higgins, who created three additional designs to represent tribes in other parts of the country.

Higgins said he hopes that Daley, who also is director of the Center for American Indians Studies at JCCC, can use his relationships with Native Americans around the country to find homes for those skateboards.

Daley is on board with promoting the skateboards. “It’s not an easy existence on the reservations, for children or adults, so anything that can get them thinking about something positive in their lives, give them something to do, that’s a good thing,” he said.

JCCC’s service learning program, which integrates education and community service, helped pull the project together. “I was struck by the ability Jeremy had to give of his artistic talents to a community” in need, said Mary Smith, the coordinator of community based learning.

“In his honors contract for the course Jeremy learned about the social problems facing the Native Americans; he wanted to do more than learn about the problem. … This project provided him insight into this culture that he may not have obtained without the service learning component.”

Higgins is in his final semester at JCCC. Having received a bachelor’s degree in Florida and worked for a couple of years there as a graphic artist, he returned home to the Kansas City area in 2009. He says he is now more focused on projects involving social awareness rather than commercial art; he plans to transfer to UMKC in the fall to pursue a degree in sociology.

In the nearer future, Higgins hopes that Wounded Knee Skateboards picks up his design. He also would like to visit Pine Ridge.

“My hope from the beginning has been that my design winds up in the hands of these kids,” he said.

 “To be able to contribute to something that has given the youth of these areas hope, and has recontextualized communities in a positive way, is an honor.”