The sneaker painting tour Soles for Peace gives a creative outlet to communities affected by gun violence.

Julian Pena concentrates on his canvass at a Soles for Peace event on August 15. Photo credit: Alex Williamson for BK Reader

On Wednesday, neighbors gathered at the Van Dyke Community Center in Brownsville for an anti-violence shoe painting session. The event was hosted by Soles for Peace, a sneaker painting tour which has visited community centers all across the city throughout the summer. With a single white sneaker as their canvass, attendees were encouraged to express their feelings about gun violence and their visions for peace.

The project was conceived when peer leaders at the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence partnered with the self-proclaimed sneakerheads at Kick Your Game who started their sneaker painting events in 2017. The NYC-based group seeks to uplift the community through its passion for sneaker culture and to inspire young people to freely express themselves, to simply “kick their game.”

Photo credit: Alex Williamson for BK Reader

At first glance, the connection between sneakers, painting and gun violence doesn’t seem obvious. According to Al-Tabar Hudgins, a peace ambassador and peer leader at the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, shoes are just a vehicle for communities to come together and be creative.

“Anything creative, anything that keeps kids off the streets and builds community is important, and in my opinion, takes away from gun violence,” Hudgins said.

Mateo Jamison, co-founder of Kick Your Game, said the sneaker painting events take on a different life depending on each community’s experience.

“One community we visited, literally a day or two before we came, had lost one of their members to gun violence,” said Jamison. “So when we came, the theme was more centered around healing and comfort.”

In contrast, Wednesday’s Soles for Peace event felt upbeat. Kids painted at tables in the Van Dyke Community Center while a DJ from Power 105.1 pumped the room full of R&B and hip-hop. It was almost easy to forget that the evening’s theme was gun violence.

For Peace Ambassador Kiara McKay, that is never easy to forget. She began working with the mayor’s office after her brother was shot and killed in 2014.

“When my brother passed away, I felt like nobody really understood my point of view of the incident,” said McKay. “My mother has a million groups she can go to, but there aren’t enough support systems for young people.”

McKay wants to start her own nonprofit for young people who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence. For now, she hopes Soles for Peace gives them a way to channel difficult emotions.

“It’s like: ‘Just come for a couple of hours, have some fun, paint, be at peace and show what peace is to you,’” McKay said.

Stephanie Maynard paints her sneaker. Photo credit: Alex Williamson for BK Reader

After the Soles for Peace sneaker painting tour wraps up on Thursday, August 16 in Staten Island, the group will be holding one final event to showcase the best pieces from each session. Stay tuned for the final date.

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Alex Williamson

Alex Williamson is a Brooklyn-based reporter whose work has appeared in Brooklyn Eagle, Queens Eagle, Gothamist and elsewhere.

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