When we met up with Saletta Coleman recently at a Starbucks in Alexandria, her choice of footwear came as a surprise: regular old sneakers rather than something with wheels attached. Coleman is one of DC’s most prominent roller-skating boosters, but while she loves to skate, these days she’s more of an advocate and historian than an actual practitioner. “My fight for roller skating is often behind the computer,” she says.
As the founder of a group called GetYourSk8On Entertainment, Coleman hosts skating events and lessons around DC while working to promote and preserve the city’s distinct roller-skating culture. Most recently, she put on a weekend of skate-focused events at the Anthem, which was converted into a roller rink for the occasion. It was a big undertaking for Coleman, whose small operation has succeeded through sheer force of will. “It’s just Saletta trying to host an event,” she says. “I can’t pay for radio time. I don’t have the money for commercials. All I’ve got is social media and word of mouth.”
View this post on Instagram
Coleman discovered roller skating 20 years ago, when—like so many other people back then—she was struggling in the wake of 9/11. One day, a friend invited her to a skate party in another city, and the experience ended up having a big impact. The joy and energy in that room “started to break down that heaviness I had been feeling for months,” she recalls. Skating “became my church, my air, my therapy. It has given me so much.” Coleman, who lives in Alexandria, launched GetYourSk8On in 2006, hoping to spread the happiness that skating had brought her.
And the truth is, DC roller skating could use the help. Once home to five rinks, the city lost its last one in 1992, and these days there’s no permanent indoor space in which to roll (though there are still some rinks in Maryland). That’s a shame: African American skating culture has a long history in Washington, and our region even has its own distinctive style, called “snapping.”
The first event Coleman staged was the Capital Skate Fest, held at the DC Armory in 2019. Almost 5,000 people showed up. Some brought their children and grandkids, and many laced up their skates for the first time in decades. There were people there who still remembered fighting to integrate local rinks in the 1960s. “It was magical,” Coleman says.
Since then, GetYourSk8On has held a number of similar events, and Coleman believes there’s enough interest to sustain a monthly get-together. The only hiccup: finding a venue that can regularly play host. “We just want four hours, somewhere in the nation’s capital, one night or Saturday morning a month, to skate and listen to music,” says Coleman, who so far hasn’t located such a spot. “You would think we were asking for the world. It doesn’t have to be every week, but damn, give us one night a month.”
This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Washingtonian.