Shoes hold a variety of meanings for an even bigger variety of people. For some, they are merely the bridge between the feet and the ground. For others, they represent a part of their personality, a story that is unique to them, yet their story reverberates through a collection of people. Some people just like shoes and there is no long-winded or extended diatribe about them, and that is perfectly fine. Other people, though? Well, there is something meaningful to them, and wearing a pair of shoes can be much, much more than what appears on the surface.
As someone who is fond of not only history, but the stories of everyday people, seeing Black History Month and the way it is honored become creative is something that is exciting to behold. Growing up, Black History Month consisted of taking the shortest month of the year (well, that part has not changed) and discussing two, maybe three, black people who made an impact on the world. That was cool and all, but even I, as far back as a 9-year-old fourth-grader, felt there were so many more ways their stories could be told outside of sitting in the classroom and participating in discussions with classmates and my homeroom teacher.
While it would be disingenuous to suggest that there were not “cool” ways to commemorate the month when I was growing up1, there certainly was not anything I can remember like what Nike has done in the past few years. Seeing what the folks at Nike are doing to commemorate Black History Month this year leads me to believe they are, in their own unique way, contributing to helping people pay homage during this designated month, but they could also be inspiring people to learn more as well, which is another victory in itself.
Now granted, these words are coming from a man who loves some Nike, and it rarely takes Nike having to do anything socially conscious, so to speak, to get my hard-earned money. But the fact that they are releasing particular items to signify Black History Month, with significant and personal meaning to each athlete described, is impressive and very respectful. Not only does it give people an opportunity to look (or continue to be) fly, but it gives them an immediate background into the development of what they are putting on, as well as the athletes behind them.
I’ll never forget being in undergrad and (truly) learning about Tommie Smith and John Carlos for the first time. Sure, I had seen their iconic Olympic image as a youngster, but I never really understood the magnitude of what they did. Anyway, one of my boys was wearing a black t-shirt with the image on the front of Smith and Carlos on the medal stand in Mexico City with accompanying quotes on the side. I was instantly pulled in by the image and basically asked him if I could have the shirt, and being the homeboy that he was, he gave it to me soon after.
Well, I went home, washed the shirt and could not wait to wear it around, but something told me there was more to this shirt than it just being cool. Plus, I always had this image in my mind of some old-school cat walking up on me, asking me if I knew what I was really wearing and I suddenly felt the need to know more about what I was putting on. With that, I used the internet, Google, Yahoo and God knows what else to search their names and was able to find a book written about them and the 1968 Olympics. I started with that, and over time, the volumes accumulated: another book, magazine articles, documentaries that had anything to do with Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
To make a long story short, those two are now, next to my dad and Willie McCullough, the most influential people in helping shape my life, and it all started because I thought a shirt my homeboy had on was cool. There is no telling what Nike and its line can do for kids, adults and others as well, even if that is not Nike’s intention at all. To me, that is more than enough reason to applaud what these folks are doing and the athletes who provided the inspiration for it.
1. I wrote a book report about Bo Jackson in the fifth grade during Black History Month which, to this day, is the most fun I ever had with a school assignment and was cool as all hell.