Every year, more than 200 girls between the ages of six and 18 take part in the various development programmes offered by Figure Skating in Harlem. The organisation is unique in the way it pairs education with this special sport: one such programme involves weekly after-school tutoring sessions in subjects like maths and rhetoric, followed by a round of figure skating. The organisation also offers roughly eight-week summer camps where participants hone their skills both in the classroom and on the ice.
No other organisation is so committed to supporting African-American girls in becoming figure skaters. At competitions, the Figure Skating in Harlem and associated Figure Skating in Detroit synchronised skating teams are often the only teams to comprise mostly athletes of colour.
Girls who participate in Figure Skating in Harlem have gone on to become lawyers, social workers, teachers, designers, financial experts and real-estate specialists. This fills former figure skater Sharon Cohen with pride. She founded the organisation back in 1997. Laureus Sport for Good, a charity co-founded by Mercedes-Benz that helps children and young people overcome violence, discrimination and disadvantage in their lives, has also been supporting Cohen and her organisation for years. In this interview, she talks about what it takes to help girls become confident, independent women.