When ‘Sorry’ Means More Than Apologizing
By Rhonda Harper
LOS BANOS, CA (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM)– Last evening was the film premiere of 12 Miles North, the Nicolas Gabaldon Story. I went down to Los Angeles to attend the festivities and celebrate the marking of history. What I found was another commercial sell out. This time it was selling of Nicolas Gabaldon by NIKE. I cried and walked out on the film, I couldn’t watch it, it hurt. I don’t remember giving a speech so that the Black Surfing Association can once again gain from my civil duty.
I wrote Nick an apology for backing down from the BSA’s Surf Mafia mentality.
I would first like to give my apologies for not being more involved in recording your history. You see, back in 2005 when I first discovered the history of Santa Monica, Inkwell Beach and yourself, I came under fire by members of the Black Surfing Association. This was one of the reasons I stopped my research.
I sent an email directly to Rick Blocker, BSA surf historian asking if there had ever been a request made like a plaque or a monument. He responded with a simple, no.
My reason for getting the plaque was not as Alison Jefferson so brashly asked me when I presented it to her, for a thesis. I did it because, if you remember and I know you watch over your area, that students at Santa Monica High School at the time were constantly embarking in race riots. Alison had no idea who you were or anything about surfing but they keep using her as your historian. I love it, another sellout.
Nicolas, I was trying to use you, as a vehicle to stop the violence. I figured if I found a mutual hero from both cultures, the kids would have something to be proud of…you heard me say that in my speech. I thought it would have been great but then…you got lost in controversy from the BSA.
The day I went down to the city council’s chambers to request the plaque, I remember it well. I was supposed to go out to dinner that night, I was trying to get my Valentine’s Day on, but the clerk stated that it had to be tonight or else I would have to wait until the next budget meeting. Imagine my surprise to find that this night was the ONLY night to get this accomplished.
I filled out the clerk’s paperwork and handed it to the clerk behind the desk. She was very nice. Her smile let me know that she was wishing me “good luck”. She was a very beautiful African American woman, I figured she just found out about you.
I went home, emailed and phoned members of the BSA and asked them if they would join me that evening at the chamber. I received numerous calls most people were excited about the request others, not so much and they made that very clear. One didn’t even know it was Black History Month.
They said I shouldn’t name my company Inkwell Surf and a host of other atrocities. When I got up to speak on Inkwell Beach and your behalf, no one was there except a friend of mine. No one from the BSA came that night, not one person.
During my speech, I could feel a pulse of calm run through me. You can hear it in my speech. I tried to write it down but by the time I got up to speak it was 7 hours later and I was half asleep; my focus was gone. I didn’t think they went for it so I walked away at the bell. Then, to my surprise Councilmen Bloom asked where was the Ink Well. It was just then, I knew this would be a real possibility. Then the Mayor told me to call the city manager’s office.
So you see, Nick, I tried. I tried with every fiber of my being to keep your memory safe, free from greed and wanna be celebrities. I spoke to Les Williams, he told me that you wouldn’t have wanted all this attention which is the reason I stopped researching your history. I should have stood tall.
I would have but then a news story hit the airwaves at six o’clock sharp. “Black Surfer Controversy” once again, your memory was tarnished by greed. Tony Corley had given an interview saying that I had gone around him and got the plaque. Dedon Kamathi, the BSA president at the time, tried to quell the drama, but it was too late.
I had just invited the BSA to join me for a “Jena 6” march in Hollywood. The next day, my company, Inkwell Surf marched on Sunset Boulevard. The following day was February 7, 2008, the day the plaque was dedicated. Not one person that had given grief to me about the plaque bothered to attend your dedication.
Which brings me to the heart of my apology. Perhaps if maybe I didn’t get on that airplane and run from people that hurt me, I would have been better prepared for yesterday. I have been asked a million times to help on projects about you and sit in for this movie or that article. I have always turned it down because I felt that the mission had not being accomplished, one. There are no black surfers in pro surfing.
Two, that not enough black surf history has been recorded to feel comfortable enough to produce movies and documentary films about black surfers without someone feeling slighted as they do now. I hate to mention this because I know that you are trying to rest but, last night was so horrible for me it was insane. It was so bad I had to get up and walk out of the theater. It was nothing that I imagined it would be.
I sat watching a beautiful memory get slaughtered by the 99% who didn’t even dare bother to introduce a shiny, new, black surfer, sponsored by NIKE. That would have been worth the drive down to Los Angeles, but that wasn’t the case and I am so sorry. I knew if you were sold on the block that the organization behind it would be them. I heard someone from NIKE brag that it took them four months to accomplish the evening, but it took 7 years away from my life trying to protect your legacy.
Right after the plaque dedication, I walked down to the beach while everyone was hamming for the cameras, thanked you and the patrons before me for being strong. I am grateful for all you have given me on this journey. I promise I will get back to work doing what I love most, surfing.
Rhonda R. Harper
P.S. I can’t apologize for the sellout, things happen but I can assure you I will fight for black surfers in the future no matter what