by Christian Wise / photo by Ben Barnhart
Week-long curbside campouts; riots; egregious price markups on the black market. Murders, even, all over fresh pairs of tennis shoes. Something has gone wrong in the sneaker culture, and Sneakers for Success (S4S; sneakers4success.org), a company I’m involved in, is trying to help change that.
Founded in 2011, our emerging non-profit organization is working to engage and inspire underrepresented youth by using sneakers as a transformational medium. To this end, S4S students will study the history of sneaker culture and be exposed to career opportunities within the industry. Our ultimate goal? Harnessing students’ burning passion for kicks and empowering them to transfer this energy toward their total academic achievement. Above all, students will complete our program with the “Sole Power” to attain the goals and dreams they are passionate enough to pursue.
Many of S4S’ goals reflect the life lessons of Samuel del Pilar II, their founder. Born and raised in NYC, Pilar recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in engineering. Growing up, Sam worked overtime to feed his sneaker addiction, sometimes skipping school to cop the latest releases. Reflecting on these experiences and thinking about the issues facing today’s youth in public education inspired Sam to start S4S. Pilar assembled a team of committed classmates from UMass. “We realized that we were those kids, mentally trapped ourselves. We want to target those students today, making them aware of what we weren’t,” says Pilar.
Our week-long pilot program at the Springfield Renaissance School last December showed the potential of S4S; middle school students connected to our material, innovative teaching methods and each other through community-building activities. and we traveled to Reebok headquarters, giving students first-hand exposure to the inner workings of the sneaker business.
Moving forward, we will commence our first full-scale program at the High School of Sports Management in Brooklyn this fall. These students will discover the New York City roots of the sneaker culture and explore the role of kicks in the sports industry. We are excited to continue this journey of youth empowerment, one sole at a time.