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'A place they call home': Skateboarder who shreds at ASU is building community in Angola

Jessy Mendes is taking part in a fellowship hoping to build a better life for young people in his home country through his love of skateboarding.

PHOENIX — Skating around Perry Park in Phoenix, it's clear Jessy Mendes is at home on a skateboard. 

"I love it," Mendes said with a large smile on his face. 

He takes the rails with ease and flips his board like it's practically an extension of himself. 

Mendes has been skating for 15 years when his sister bought him his first skateboard. 

"Ever since she bought me that in 2003 'til this day, I've been a skateboarder," he said. 

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But even after all the hours on his board, Mendes still isn't bothered by any falls. In fact, he usually laughs and smiles through them. 

"I get back up and try again because what I do requires you to try again and keep going," Mendes said. 

Mendes was born in Angola, a country in Central Africa. But the civil war led his parents to move the family to South Africa.

Mendes stayed there until 2015 when he had to go back to Angola. 

"Due to economic problems back in Angola, my father couldn't keep pay for my fees to stay in South Africa," Mendes said. "I had to drop out of school (in) grade 10. After I dropped out of school, all I had was skateboarding." 

The constant was his love for skateboarding, but in his country, something was still missing. 

"There's no safe facilities for young people to skate," Mendes said. "That's when I decided to create Angola Skateboarding Union. Basically, a platform that gives skateboarders in Angola a voice, support, you know, love to grow the sport."

Mendes worked to get plans made, land secured, and construction is done on the first skate park in Angola. But the place became something much more.

"A place they call home, a safe space out of society where they can just come in, be united and just do what they love, which is skateboarding," Mendes said. 

That skate park, built in 2018, holds special memories for Mendes too.

"It touches me a lot because I started that project from the beginning with my father, and in 2020 he passed away," Mendes said. "The last image I have of him is building that project."

Mendes continues to channel his passion to help kids in foster care there too. Helping them find an outlet, and better themselves through skateboarding.

"These are children who do not live in houses with moms and dads, these are kids who live on the streets," Mendes said. 

All of that work earned Mendes the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

He's been at Arizona State University since early June learning and networking to bring his experience back to Angola, build up the sport and build more skate parks. 

Mendes will soon be heading to San Francisco to learn and partner with the non-profit Hip Hop for Change, which empowers youth. Hoping to put art from the kids there onto skateboards for the kids he works with as part of Angola Skateboarding Union and bring them back. 

Mendes is looking for sponsors to help him bring more skateboards, skate parks and a skate shop back home to Angola too. 

So far, Mendes said a local skateboarding company, SkateForty8 will be donating 48 skateboards to Angola. 

"When the skateboards break, kids have to use like plywood to like screw the skateboards together," Mendes said. 

Mendes believes it's the young people that can create change.

"I believe in people in the community," Mendes said. "Working directly with the people, struggling with the people. Those are the people I believe in and those are the people I know who will change Africa." 

It's a passion Mendes clearly has and wants to share with the world. 

“If you love something, and you really passionate about it, you shouldn't let anyone tell you, you can't do it. But instead, you should find ways to make it happen for yourself," Mendes said.

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