Rebecca Ninburg has spent the last decade inspiring girls and women to pipe up, but when the co-founder of the L.A. Derby Dolls decided to make a professional move late last year, she did it quietly. As the league moved out of its Fillipinotown home and set up its track in an El Sereno warehouse, Ninburg stepped down as president; Shannon ‘Marsha Law’ Bishop now has that post. With the Derby Dolls holding a soft opening at the new venue this Saturday, we called the former roller skater to find out why she decided to focus on other work—like helping mayor Eric Garcetti establish gender parity in L.A.’s city government—and what it’s like to root for her old team from the sidelines
The last time we spoke you were working on securing a broadcast deal for the Derby Dolls. Why did you decide to step down?
I had been running the Derby Dolls for 11-and-a-half years, and last year I hired someone to handle all the day-to-day operations. Because it’s run like a non-profit and the overhead was so high, generating revenue was difficult. And like any non-profit, I ended up working 90 hours a week. You can only take that for so long.
Then we ran into a little issue. The sprinkler system [at our old space] wasn’t working and we didn’t pass the fire test, so we couldn’t hold events. That’s where all our revenue comes from. So I talked with the girls and said, ‘We can close or we can move.’ They said, ‘Why don’t we create a co-op and we’ll take it over?’ I said, ‘That’s awesome!’
I am a huge believer in the Derby Dolls and how it transforms lives, but I’m also aware of when it needs an influx of energy. It needed that.
Have you seen the group’s new rink? What do you think of it?
The girls ended up finding the new space themselves. It’s awesome! It’s up and running. It has a slightly different layout. It’s smaller and the ceiling is lower, but what’s really great is that creates intimacy. The closer you are to the skaters the more you can feel that energy.
You’re currently the vice president of the city’s commission on the status of women. Is that your focus now?
I do spend my time on that. I’m so passionate about working with City Hall, about working with this administration. They keep gender equity in mind with every decision. You’ve got [chief of staff] Ana Guerrero, [first lady of Los Angeles] Amy Elaine Wakeland, [mayor] Eric Garcetti, [legislative deputy] Cecilia Cabello, [district director of community development] Heather Repenning, and [director of operations] Jill Scoggins Noland—all these people who are making really conscious choices.
It’s in draft form, but Eric Garcetti is issuing an executive directive for all general managers to adopt CEDAW [the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women]. We’ve got a lot of work to do. My passion is helping the fire department rectify their gender equity issues—and minority equity issues, too. The biggest opportunity for change is policy.
The Derby Dolls change the way women see themselves, they way they own their own bodies and own their own strength. I’m so confident they will continue on with that mission. Working with the Garcetti administration is an extension of that for me.
The Derby Dolls have their first event this Saturday. Will you be there?
Oh God yeah! Of course! I’m so excited. I’m going to do a walk through with the fire marshal and one of our skaters because I have experience with it.
You said one of “our” skaters. Will you always see yourself as a part of the Dolls?
Always. I just got chills.
See the Derby Dolls set up their track in their new El Sereno home: