As a 7-year-old girl living in the New York City projects, Whoopi Goldberg loved to go ice skating in Central Park with her brother. “I always wanted to be in the Ice Capades,” says Goldberg, who hosts “The View” and runs her own production company. “I was a great skater. I was a speed skater.” But she never remembers seeing any black ice skaters on TV.
Goldberg is now an honorary chair of Figure Skating in Harlem, a nonprofit that helps young girls learn leadership and academic skills through the sport. Roughly 250 girls between the ages of 6 and 18 are annually enrolled in after-school and summer programs. “Every day, they skate, have life skills classes and tutoring,” says Sharon Cohen, the founder and executive director, who oversees the 63 coaches, counselors and tutors on staff. “We’re the first and only organization anywhere to use figure skating as a tool to help our girls achieve success in the classroom and in life.”
Figure Skating in Harlem’s leaders note that the one-of-a-kind program, which launched in 1997, has a proven track record for ensuring that its young women carve out bright futures for themselves. In order to stay an active member, each girl must retain a B-plus average in school. Last year, 100% of graduating seniors from the program went on to college. Before lacing up for the rink, the girls are required to enroll in reading, writing and math classes provided by the instructors. “We really work with them to find their own voice, to be good writers and public speakers,” Cohen says.
Goldberg admits she hasn’t hit the ice herself in years, but she likes to help young people follow their dreams. “Anytime someone is passionate about something, I feel like you have to encourage that,” Goldberg says.
“If it turns out to be your passion, great,” Goldberg adds. “If it’s not, enjoy it. Now’s the time.”