Oct 1, 2022
Content Warning: Suicide
On October 1, 2022, Radical Alternative Development (RAD) Eugene and the Emerald Shred Collective (ESC) came together to throw a benefit show and skate competition to commemorate two Washington-Jefferson skatepark community members whose lives were lost to mental health complications last year. The families of Ben “Money Jones” Moody and Silas “Steezy” Strimple are collaborating with these community groups to make sure Ben and Silas are remembered.
Mike claims to be “kinda a skatepark dad in a lot of ways,” saying, “but I’m also still a kid at heart. Everyday I get to skate is a good day…I think that might blow some of them away as I’m 48, but skate like I’m 28. It’s my hope that the young ones see that skateboarding can carry them far through their life and you don’t have to quit or stop for anything…I have skated 3-4 times a week pretty consistently my whole life.”
Mike remembers clearly his first time meeting Silas and Ben. Silas, at 11 years old, was at the skatepark the same day as Mike wearing a Bathory shirt. In his best death metal growl, Mike joked “Hey, gimme that shirt!” From there, they became buds, bonding through music and Silas’ obvious devotion to the sport. As Silas developed early onset schizophrenia, the WJ regulars did their best to provide a support system for him. Mike knew the “Moody Clan” through Ben and Drake’s dad, Drew, a longtime skateboarder and friend. Ben grew up skating with his dad and older brother, which is how Mike came to know him. Mike proudly recalls how Ben and Silas grew into their skills, skateboarding was their calling. He got to see them shine, and he carried their passion with them on his ride.
Ben, 17, died by suicide on March 9, 2022. One year earlier, fellow skater Silas was found dead at 18 at a recycling plant outside Austin, Texas. Silas struggled with schizophrenia— his family worked to get him treatment to no avail because many facilities lack the resources to help individuals without the material stability to continuously seek care. Surviving friends and family believe that these deaths could have been prevented if Lane County had more robust mental health programs that transcend traditional “awareness” and focused more seriously on harm reduction and resource access. Because of this, people like BriJit, Daniel, and Mike of RAD and ESC are making leaps and bounds to change the paradigm around mental health in our community.
The mental health crisis in Lane County is only escalating in its extremity. In turn, the community has turned to more radical and unconventional ways to call attention to the inadequate social infrastructure that exacerbates the struggles of people like Ben and Silas, or you and me.
The following feature is the product of conversations between the Insurgent and the organizers of this tribute. Thank you to BriJit and Mike for your time, and to our readers for their attention.
Mike Crespino of Eugene announced last spring that he would be skating 831 miles from Eugene to the Bay Area in honor of Ben and Silas’ memory. This September, he kept his word. Crespino, at 48 years old, pushed off on his odyssey from Washington-Jefferson skatepark on the morning of September 12, 2022, making it to the Bay Area in just 21 days, ahead of the projected 27 days. With the help of fellow skateboarders and friends, Mike Bucknell and Ethan Hall, following him by car, Crespino skated down the major highways from Oregon to California to deliver customized skateboards to Ben and Silas’ families in time for the benefit show taking place in Eugene on Oct. 1. This journey was part of a successful fundraising effort through Almonte Boardshop in Eugene and crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe. Friends all over were able to follow the journey on social media at the Emerald Shred Collective’s Instagram page (@emerald_shred_collective).
It wasn’t all smooth skating as Mike made his way to the Bay Area to deliver the memorial decks to Ben and Silas’s families, including Ben’s older brother and skate mentor, Drake Moody. On September 22, Mike made a social media post from the ER. At this point in his journey, he’d already made incredible timing and landed in his hometown of Eureka in Humboldt County, California where he reunited with his mother, Shirley Crespino. When on a walk in their neighborhood she fell and fractured her face, incurring an injury that required an ambulance trip and stitches. Right in the middle of his trip, Mike was confronted with his own struggle, and was unsure whether to continue on. In heartfelt solidarity with Mike’s mission, Shirley was more concerned that she “ruined” her son’s trip more than her own health. At his mother’s insistence, Mike took to the streets once again, determined to reach the Bay and complete his personal tribute to the scene back at home.
The ups and downs of Mike’s story are symbolic of the very real ups and downs of managing and recovering from the realities of living with mental health issues. Some called it a hero’s journey along the way, as Mike coasted down the coast he encountered challenges on every level: both physical and metaphysical. Like the very best protagonists, he saw every setback as an opportunity to make meaning out of hardship. Talk about PMA— this trip is it.
Against these formidable obstacles, Mike says he used each challenge as an opportunity to overcome trauma, mental and physical blocks, as well as glean a greater lesson through all the sweat, tears, and tumbles. Exerting all his strength and willpower, Mike climbed up hilly highways to chase the sweet release of the ride back down; a poetic example of the work we have to put in, the strength we must find within ourselves with the support of community, to achieve the relief of overcoming obstacles. Whether that obstacle is two literal miles of uphill asphalt or the Sisyphian crawl that comes with depression, anxiety, and other mental blockades, Mike’s personal success proves that such summits are possible.
The first week was reportedly the hardest, but both Mike’s body and mentality quickly adjusted to the challenge that lay ahead. According to Mike, his time on the road forced him to look at his own blindspots, challenging his own self-destructive internal behaviors and dialogues. The task at hand required him to confront fears old and new, but this story is about so much more than one man’s journey. Mike is in good company of other skaters that braved similar treks, citing skaters like the legendary Jack Smith, the _Shred America _crew, and Calleigh Little, the first trans woman to complete a solo cross country long-distance push on longboard. Following in their wheels —at double the age of those before him— Mike pulled himself out of a low place and pushed to preserve, above all personal gain or glory to be had, the legacy created by Ben and Silas. Through his own personal struggle and triumph, Mike vindicated the loss of beloved community members, raising money for their memorial and spreading a positive mental attitude along the way.
Back home, BriJit and Daniel of Rot//Woven and RAD put in over six months of hard work and networking to put on the biggest metal festival Eugene’s scene has seen in some time.
Bands, organizations, and skaters arrived at Washington-Jefferson skatepark in Eugene as early as 10 am the morning of October 1. It was a scorcher of a fall day, the sun stood unabated in the sky, shining over the festivities in the park. Baking on the concrete for the entire twelve hours harkened back to my days as a young punk at Warped Tour or Riot Fest. Skaters whizzed by the table where we sat, handed out zines, and connected with local mental health outreach groups, such as: Suicide Prevention Coalition of Lane County, Food Not Bombs, Community Outreach through Radical Empowerment (CORE), Daisy CHAIN, Transponder, HIV Alliance, Free Herbal Medicine, Burrito Brigade, White Bird, Looking Glass, Black Thistle Street Aid, Sexual Assault Support Services, and Greenhill Cycling Center. Metal and hardcore punk bands provided the soundtrack for the entire day, with nonstop music from 1-10pm. A playlist of all the groups will be attached to this article— seriously, check them out.
The day was significant for the type of community building organizers envisioned: thanks to a spirited SKATE competition that awarded custom boards and other Almonte merch to the winner, moshable music that excited the crowd, and easy access to a variety of mental health resources distributed by friendly faces. The excitement of the event was tangible in the way the crowd moved, the fact that so many stayed the entire day, and the over $2000 they raised to go toward suicide prevention in at risk communities as well as a memorial installation at Washington-Jefferson skatepark.
BriJit Jenkins, 35, and her partner Daniel are both local social workers and members in Rot//Woven. Following the successful benefit show, BriJit took the time out of her busy schedule as a mom, musician, and addictions counselor to share her experience as an organizer and what it’s like to be on the frontlines of the struggles in our scene.
BriJit, a proud mom to three rad teenagers, has been booking and playing shows for a long time now—nourishing a lifelong passion for community building alongside her work in mental health care. Ben was a family friend who would hang out with BriJit’s kids “all_ _the time,” and news of his death devastated their family. In an interview, she discussed the extent of the mental health crisis she’s encountered firsthand, sharing both her personal background and her professional experience with this issue.
“It seems like, so many kids are killing themselves…I was working at Sacred Heart Hospital for the entire pandemic as a mental health and alcohol counselor, I didn’t work a single fucking day from home. I was underneath the bridge, there every fucking day. I can’t even tell you how many people have killed themselves in the county and overdosed and died just within the last few years, [and] it’s becoming a younger and younger age.” Emphatically, she went on to cite the public health emergency on suicide impacting young people aged 12-24, referencing two suicides at her kids’ high school in the last year. Thereafter she transferred them to another school.
Frustrated with the lacking social and medical infrastructure to deal with the scope of mental health in Oregon, and all of its intersections, RAD formed informally many years ago to be a free-thinking collective that would advocate for more critical and holistic approaches to mental health care. The idea for a benefit show of this scale has been in the works for three years, but the city continually denied permits until awareness and attention around suicide prevention increased in light of the pandemic and a suicide cluster in spring 2022.
Finally, last spring the city agreed to RAD’s idea for a benefit show at WJ skatepark, an event which marks the beginning of the collective’s collaboration with suicide prevention outreach groups in Lane County, such as Suicide Prevention Coalition of Lane County and the Youth and Teen Empowerment Program.
This is a step in the right direction. It seems like mental health resources are abundant these days, but is it as _accessible _as it can be? This is something RAD is working to actively address. RAD’s goal for the outcome of the show was simple, but neglected in mainstream conversations about suicide prevention and healthcare: it was an opportunity for “bringing people together, bridging the gap between services, and making it [self care and getting help] cool, and non stigmatized.” Despite increased awareness about mental health issues, those who struggle the most (marginalized groups like poor and working class people, BIPOC, LGBTQIA3+, etc.) are often those least likely to receive meaningful care and treatment due to socioeconomic barriers.
BriJit dreams of an ice-cream truck approach to accessing care -the kind of outreach groups like White Bird and Black Thistle Street Aid do- physically bringing medical care to the communities least likely to seek out or receive it. The benefit show at WJ was likely the largest collection of mental health counselors and resources the park has ever hosted. Bridging the stuffy, often classist, formality of reaching out for treatment with the casual and fun spaces created by skateboarding, punk, or other counterculture communities, is an important element in reaching out to traditionally neglected populations and practicing holistic approaches to prevention.
ESC and RAD are taking action to change the current paradigm on mental health awareness. As Mike says, “awareness without action is avoidance.” In a world that operates on a short attention span, we need to dedicate consistent, concentrated, and long-term effort if we want to meaningfully reduce the number of lives lost to suicide and other mental health complications. Effective action can start really small, and become something really big. ESC and RAD’s contributions to this cause started as an idea, and transformed into a memorial and prevention movement that will forever preserve the legacies Ben and Silas leave behind in our community.
This is about remembrance and resilience. We need to strengthen our communities -our relationships with each other- to prevent our friends, comrades, and family from dying too young. The work of ESC and RAD is a testament to an inspiring momentum in our community, exemplifying how important, and surprisingly achievable, it can be to have a positive impact on people’s lives. This is part of a larger trend in radical communities towards building community resilience and solidarity through our actions and relationships. In our conversations, Mike and BriJit proudly testified to the evolution of the punk and skateboarding scenes to become safer spaces for all, thanks to the work of people over time to make them more inclusive therein engendering stronger solidarity amongst individuals in these collectives. A big part of this movement is building an atmosphere of care and mutual aid— we look out for each other. We cannot support ourselves without the support of others, lean into the spaces people are making to seek out that help.
This is only the beginning. ESC and RAD plan to continue with their track-record of following through on their goals: stay tuned to these groups for updates on building a memorial installation at WJ skatepark for people to shred on in honor of Ben, Silas, and other community members whose lives were lost to mental health battles. In our hearts we all know suicide isn’t a solution, but our solutions to suicide aren’t working. Let’s get creative, engage our passions, and carry the memories of lost loved ones forward in finding better solutions in prevention and care approaches.
Stay up to date with RAD and ESC on their social media profiles:
@emerald_shred_collective on Instagram.
@rad.eugene.oregon on Instagram
On the Print Issue, it was falsely stated that BriJit has two, not three, kids. This has been corrected for the website edition of this article.