(from left to right) Gary Mason, Tausha Sanders, Frankie Zombie, Venita Cooper, Ian Williams, Channing Beumer, Brandon Oldham | Photograph by Christopher Creese
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By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor in chief
Kicks, creps, Scooby Doos, feet whips, and sneakers are just a few by-names for the rubbery and comfy fashion statements protecting humankind’s feet from the elements.
Sneakers have been famously respected within African-American culture since four-time Olympic Gold medalist Jessie Owens blazed the tracks at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin with his famous Adidas kicks, making the brand the go-to for athletic shoes in western culture.
Adidas founder Adi Dassler was progressive and forward-thinking beyond his years allowing a black person to represent his brand, despite the pushback he received from the Nazi German government. Hence, it could be said that the sneaker was one of many intersections which ignited the counter-cultural and global resistance movement against white supremacist ideologies. It dismissed false ideas about racialized superiority and brought people together despite their racial identity.
Air Fear Of God 1 sneakers features a slip-on style, a square toe, laced-front detail, sock-style silhouette and black lacquer Swoosh. | Photograph by Christopher Creese
The Michael Jordan era of the ‘80s ushered in a new type of love and purpose in sneaker-wearing. The shoe became more than athletic gear, shifting to a symbol of fashionable cultural apparel. More than just a basketball shoe, Air Jordans, created by Nike, would grow in popularity to represent an ideal—the goal of reaching for excellence and achieving success in the U.S. To have a pair of Jordans is equivalent to attaining a piece of the American dream.
Venita Cooper, a young Tulsa entrepreneur, embodies the American dream. Specifically, she personifies the black American dream for people of color. In October, Cooper became the first business owner to open a sneaker store on America’s original Black Wall Street since the Greenwood district’s heyday of black economic prosperity.
Silhouette Sneakers & Art is a highly-curated retail experience bringing limited and authentic sneakers and streetwear to Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. Its boutique will be coupled with an art gallery, showcasing a rotating selection of street-inspired art. Silhouette Sneakers & Art, located at 10 N. Greenwood Ave., welcomes every sneakerhead, streetwear lover and arts enthusiast into a single shared space.
Cooper is definitely in the right field. The sneaker business is a multi-billion-dollar industry with a subcultural market value between $600 million to $1 billion, according to a GQ magazine article titled, “How a Single Pair of Sneakers Explains the Booming Billion-Dollar Sneaker Resale Industry.” Cooper said her business will also include sneaker resale.
Silhouette Sneakers & Art brought multiple sneaker-culture experts to Tulsa in September for an exclusive event and panel discussion for people who are seemingly married to their footwear. The event included sneakers and art from local artists Alexander Tamahn, Rebekah Campbell McIlwain and No Parking Studios.
Tausha Sanders, founder of SneakHer Summit, the women’s division of Sneaker Summit, sat on Saturday night’s panel at the trendy and eclectic Foolish Things Coffee Company in downtown Tulsa. “My mom always had me in the flyest kicks. You know I had to be fly for the first day of school and fly for picture day. I’ve just continued that love,” Sanders said. “I love sneakers. I’ll wear them every day, all day. I can enjoy a heel every now and then, but I feel like sneakers bring people together. I can talk about sneakers all day and with whomever.”
Brandon Oldham focused on right | Photograph by Christopher Creese
Brandon Oldham, a Tulsa socialite and sneaker lover who also sat on Saturday’s panel, said, “Our community is made of a multitude of subcultures that, together, enrich our city. Events like these create space for community members to connect while showcasing our city through the lens of sneakers and art.”
Ian Williams, founder and CEO of Deadstock Coffee in Portland, Oregon—a coffee and sneaker themed shop that even boasts its own LeBron James- inspired beverage—was also in attendance. “It was so dope to see the city come together and support something new. Retail is so difficult, so I feel great knowing that people are very aware of [Silhouette Sneakers & Art],” Williams said. “It was seriously an honor to be there. I am excited to see what Venita has for y’all …
“Sneakers are a big part of my life,” Williams continued. “Sneakers made it possible for me to come experience beautiful Tulsa. Sneakers have taken me around the world and opened doors to places I never thought I’d go.”
At the end of the night, Cooper was optimistic about what was accomplished. “The event was a starting point for an ongoing conversation about how we elevate sneaker and street culture here in Tulsa,” she said. “These successful entrepreneurs came to our city to engage with us because they believe in the potential of our people. Hopefully, everyone left with a clearer vision for that potential, particularly regarding how we can foster community and lift each other up.”
Photographs by Christopher Creese
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.