Photo provided by Ray Mendez.

Faces of Mott Haven: Pro skater shares his passion with community

Ray Mendez grew up around the corner from the Mullaly Skate Park by Yankee Stadium, one of the oldest skate parks in the city. After honing his skills there on kickers and round rails, he went on to compete around the world in high-level inline skating competitions.

In his heyday, Global Skate and Inline magazines featured him on their covers.  But as a Bronx kid to the core, Mendez wanted to support the community that nurtured his passion.

Today he’s an entrepreneur living in Mott Haven, managing to combine his love for skating, videography and the Bronx into his day-to-day work.

Mendez runs Go! Sports USA, a city Department of Education-licensed vendor that provides alternative physical education and art classes in schools throughout the city. Pre-pandemic, Mendez and his team would teach about 1,000 students roller skating, photography and film each week.

In March, it will be a year since they’ve held an in-school program.

“We developed a bunch of online stuff, but the truth of the matter is, our strength is really face-to-face in working with the kids,” he said. “We had a program a couple of months ago when COVID was a little more chill, and we ran that outside. We’re doing a remote class now with a school in the Bronx. We had to pivot like everybody else.”

Mendez picked up his photo and video skills early, while practicing with friends at Mullaly Skate Park.  He was always the one who held the camera, and it paid off.  Documentation is important to any extreme sport, he explained – it can help secure sponsorships and pay bills.

In 2007, Mendez helped found the Harold Hunter Foundation in honor of one of the first Black pro-skateboarders to come out of New York City. The non-profit works mainly with underserved children of color, using skateboarding as a way to build life skills and encourage creativity.

“Generally, we work with kids that come from pretty challenging situations,” Mendez said. “All of these things that they’re faced with have been exacerbated. The work we do now is more challenging but it’s also more needed.”

In addition to his skating work, Mendez runs Parlour Productions, a media group that has shot video and photos for Mott Haven Families, a community advocacy group, and LIFT, a local nonprofit that focuses on ending generational poverty.

Mendez feels the Bronx made him the person he is today.

“For me, it’s really about paying it forward,” he said.