"My Shoes or My Life"

by Kristian Whitby

It’s 7:55 am on a cold December morning.  Imagine standing across the street from your school and 2 men come up to you and ask for your sneakers, what do you do? This was the predicament of a 14 year old boy in 2014. After having his sneakers taken, this young boy was stabbed in the back. Growing up in Washington, DC, Sneaker violence is something that occurs on a regular. I always have loved sneakers and their history, but never experienced sneaker violence personally. I'm lucky. Rapper Wale, who is also from the DMV Area (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) attacked this serious topic in his song "White Shoes"which released in 2015In the video you see a young man who works two jobs, unable to afford popular and up to date shoes, and is wearing non branded sneakers. He is ridiculed for his shoes, therefore when he accumulates enough money, he buys the newest pair of Air Jordan sneakers. As he struts his stuff in his new shoes, his sneakers are then snatched by a group of men. Not only his sneakers were taken but also his life.

Youth are constantly losing their life over material items such as sneakers in Washington, DC. Earlier this week, a 17 year old girl just lost her life because of a phone. Wale uses his music to connect with youth and try to point out how serious the topic is. When I was discussing sneaker violence with a few of my peers, they didn't seem to know what sneaker violence was. Sneaker violence is an act of violence that occurs over shoes such as fights, robbery, and even murder. When I explained it to them, they were familiar with it, yet they didn't know the seriousness of the topic.Sneaker violence has been occurring for over 20 years. In the year of 1989, 15 year old Michael Eugene Thoma was one of the first examples of sneaker violence. He was strangled, sodomized and found barefoot in a wooded area located in Anne Arundel County(Maryland). Ever since, there has been some instance of sneaker violence each year. Not only in the DMV, but around the United States. According to GQ magazine 1,200 deaths occur due to sneaker violence a year. This many people dying over shoes? Outrageous!

Before making it big, Wale worked at a local Footlocker in Washington, DC. He knew the hype about each shoe release, especially Air Jordan’s. He mentions many name brand shoes such as Ice creams, Penny Foams, Air Jordans, and Gucci shoes. All of which are expensive. He also touches on how in the African American community sneakers are important. He says “Where sneaker stores and laundromats get the most money. Cause it aint bout what your doing, but how your looking. They love you for your status and catalog.” Wale is saying that even though we may not be able to afford it, we do our best to look our best and impress everyone. We don’t care what we have to do to obtain expensive items, as long as we  have them we feel powerful. Some people may work for it, while other will sell drugs, rob, and even murder others for them. We want to be perceived as someone of a higher status, though in reality that may not be the case. The hook of the song is “If they're gonna judge you for life, say we can't always be fly. We gon' be good long as them sneakers white. you'll be alright, said you'll be alright” Basically saying no matter what, you will be judged. People will attack you for being who you are, and doing what you want to do. We don’t have to succumb to the materialistic society which we live in. As long as long as we have clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, and a place to live, we’ll all be alright.

Dazie Williams was the mother of Joshua Williams who was killed in 2012 at the age of 22 years old over the Air Jordan 11’s “Bred”. Therefore she started an organization called Life Over Fashion in order to get people informed about sneaker violence and spread awareness. Ms. Williams was later contacted by Nike and even Michael Jordan due the the success of the organization. She talked to them about successful solutions that can be used in order to put an end to sneaker violence. Ms. Williams and Wale are leaders in the pursuit to ending sneaker violence.  Teens are being killed left and right over something as simple as their sneakers. Teens are the future, therefore they need guidance. Guidance to show teens that you are supposed to work for what they want, guidance to show that its nothing wrong with being yourself, guidance to show that there is always a rainbow after the storm. Wale used his craft in order to reach out to youth and show them the seriousness of sneaker violence and materialism and show his audience these things. We need more leaders to give youth the guidance they need, and to help show them what in life is actually important. Without guidance, this type of violence will continue.Which leads me back to this question...My shoes, or my life?