Amid continuing police-involved shootings of black Americans and renewed focus on racism at Illinois State University, two local groups have teamed up to show solidarity—and make 50 kids very, very happy.
Unity Partnership and the Bloomington-Normal chapter of the NAACP partnered to give away 50 pairs of designer shoes to local youth on Friday at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church.
Unity Partnership youth director Marquell Oliver said the goal was to empower and encourage all to take a step toward creating change. Literally.
“When you look at the impact that shoes have had in our community, you think of Jordans, Run DMC when he'd wear Adidas, Nike, Puma, and now Yeezys. Shoes impact us the same way music and video games does,” Oliver said. “Everyone would look kind of crazy not having shoes when walking around in general so while it's a necessity, it's an empowerment factor that completes the outfit as well.”
The Super Heroic shoe brand was created to empower youth to discover their hidden superpowers through footwear. Oliver said being given the shoes was a blessing.
“We have a wonderful relationship with Jayson Mayden, who is the creator of Super Heroic designer brand, and we were blessed enough to receive the shoes from him as he's been doing tremendous things all across the country,” Oliver said.
Unity Partnership is a Naperville-based organization that aims to create trust and bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. Desiring to partner with a group known for advocacy, Oliver said the NAACP was the perfect choice.
“Mayden wanted us to carry on the message of love, being heroic, powerful, and dreaming with the shoes, so it was on us to identify different people in the community that was doing that and being a beacon of light,” Oliver said. “That’s why I reached out to the NAACP because they are very active, not just here in this area, but all around.”
NAACP Vice President Carla Campbell-Jackson said partnering with Unity Partnership was the ideal opportunity to make a difference in the community.
“It was definitely a priority for the NAACP because not only do we fight for racial and social justice, but also the opportunity to partner up and give back to the community,” Campbell-Jackson said.
“It’s amazing how some children don’t want to go to school if they don't have a certain attire or particular type of shoes,” she said. “Anything that keeps children engaged and motivated serves as an impetus to making them better and greater. If it takes a pair of shoes to really inspire them, then we certainly do that just to make sure they feel valued and worthy. Because they are.”
Oliver said the event was about giving back. But it was also his opportunity to become what he wanted to see as a child.
“It's important to be some of the things that I didn't see growing up,” Oliver said. “When you look at some of the hardships you go through, the most important thing is to think about how you can learn from it and positively affect the community that you're in.”
“I remember being in class and not really liking what was being taught,” he continued. “I remember being in a community and not liking the leadership, and I remember being in situations that I wasn't the most proud of. I’ve always wanted to flip that back around and say, ‘Let me find ways that I can learn myself, the people, community, and language,’ so I can give it back to those who come behind me and see the growth and maturation.”
The shoes were given out on a first come, first served basis.
“Seeing the children interact after being the recipients of the shoes is invaluable,” Campbell-Jackson said. “I believe that empowered people empower people, so while the NAACP will remain on the battlefield and fight against racial disparities, we will continue to partner with organizations like this and will take time to pause and celebrate the good things in order to motivate and inspire our community.
Oliver said the organization plans to continue the event in the future.
“It goes beyond Super Heroic,” he said. “I think with every situation, you can find a way to be an example to those that are not necessarily in our demographic and have a conversation to find out the cross-generational lessons that you can pass along and push people to be the best they can be. I don't think there's any limits to that, and I think as long as there's the heart to help it will always find a way to do so.”