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Almost 40 years ago, in the hallways and street corners of the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn, in the buildings our kids and families call home, hip-hop culture was born. Out of their collective energy, and in response their frustration with their lot in life, youth asserted themselves through hip-hop: the music, the dance, the art, and the undeniable swagger that eventually took the world by storm.
It’s ironic that hip-hop, especially its expression through personal style, has evolved far beyond the reach of most youth in the same low-income neighborhoods that originally gave life to the culture. A pair of Kanye’s Yeezy sneakers sells for $2,800 on Ebay, to give just one example. The pressure to buy cool clothes and shoes is especially strong for youth in the communities we serve.
This is where renowned artist CJ Hendry comes in. She launched the #SneakerDead project, turning hip-hop’s hyper-materialistic sneakerhead culture upside down, and giving some of the creative control back to Sheltering Arms youth from the Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Hendry, known for her life-size, photo-realistic pen and pink drawings, made the bold move to destroy a $9,000 pair of Nike Air Mag sneakers by dipping them in black paint. She drew the “ruined” shoes and auctioned the resulting work of art for $130,000. She and her team donated 100% of the sale to Sheltering Arms youth in the form of more than 900 pairs of brand new sneakers from Kith. By destroying one pair of shoes, CJ Hendry multiplied their value more than ten-fold. Moreover, she contributed infinite value to our youth who learned life lessons from the artist about making art, giving back, and being creators instead of consumers.
At our Sneakerdead celebration, 500 children from our Bronx and Harlem Afterschool Programs got to meet CJ and interview her about pursuing their dreams to make a career in the arts. Then she helped the kids design their own sneaker art based off of her famous work before helping them pick out a brand new pair of sneakers.
Finally, our Eagle Academy drumline (who practice almost daily in our Afterschool Program) performed and proved that they are still creating the sounds, sights, and experiences that inspire people everywhere to be part of hip-hop culture.
“We serve homeless youth, children in foster care, and low-income kids who don’t often get the feeling of lacing up a new pair of shoes and coming to school feeling special. Our kids were beside themselves with joy when they found out they were getting a pair of sneakers from the artist. Most of all, they were just surprised and delighted that such a popular, influential artist would take the time to visit them, admire their drawings, and listen to them perform,” said Mohan Sivaloganathan, the Chief Development Officer at Sheltering Arms.
Hendry set a shining example for other influencers, proving that something as simple as a single drawing of shoes can touch the lives of thousands of kids. Even better, she sent a powerful message to Sheltering Arms youth about their worth and their potential to make an impact with their talents. “It’s about the kids at the end of the day,” said Hendry. We couldn’t agree more!