Sometimes my writer’s juices begin to flow from a brief spark of nostalgia. So, if you are wondering, “What’s up with A.J. and Ronald Reagan?” let me share the correlation. Last Saturday was a ‘guys’ night out for just my youngest son and me. Although we were only going to a movie and dinner– pretty low visibility outing– I figured it was a good time to dig into my sneaker collection for something classy yet borderline flamboyant. As I slipped on my shoes, admiring their color and gloss, my mind traveled back to the first day of school in the fall of 1983. That feeling I had when I slipped on my new sneakers (Nike Sky Force, all white with the navy blue swoosh) didn’t feel as good as this moment tonight.
The King of Sneakers
The King of sneakers, the Nike Air Force 1 shoe had been released a year earlier (1982) by designer Bruce Kilgore. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan declared that illicit drugs were a threat to national security. By the late Summer of 1983, the high-top Air Force 1 (all white with the gray swoosh) had become the most coveted shoe to the stretch pockets of urban parents for their youth that were clamoring for a pair of 105’s. Yep… to flaunt a pair, you were going to drop $99 plus 5% tax in Maryland, totaling $105. At the time, except for the Adidas Concord shoe, they were the most expensive shoe that I had ever seen and the most talked about shoe that I had ever heard of. My peers in the neighborhood were all bragging about plans to have them for the first day of school, but not me. These $105 sneakers paired with a shimmery Starter jacket would become counterfeit status symbols in the urban communities that my father wanted me to have no part of. He refused to buy them for me. He claimed that it was for my protection but I thought that he was just being mean, even after he compromised by purchasing for me the less expensive cousin of the Air Force 1 called the Nike Sky Force. Yes, I looked fresh on the first day of school, but I felt terrible during the walk with my friends when for the first time in my life I heard the critical question, “What are those?”
At the time, I was oblivious to the backdrop of this scene. It featured the start of the Iran Contra Affair and the social corrosion of communities like mine all over the country; and like a terrible 2-year-old toddler, things were about to get really bad. Cartel proxies had begun their chemistry mentorship program teaching teens in Miami how to create crack cocaine and franchise throughout the nation. Girl, the powder form of cocaine, the little sister of Crack, was already hypnotizing and commissioning populations of underserved and underprivileged youth with the seductive prospect of acquiring, not just a pair, but a wardrobe of Air Force 1’s in flavors and fresh, matching apparel.
Two months after the start of school, on the morning of November 19, 1983, my father shows me a headline news clip just as I was headed out to school. “See… this is the $hit, I was trying to tell you. My job is to protect you.” The headline featured a schoolmate of my favorite female cousin. His name was Dewitt Duckett and he had been robbed for his Georgetown Starter jacket and killed inside of their school building. I put my head down and looked at my Sky Force sneakers as I walked out of the door frustrated. I still wanted a pair of 105’s and I still wanted a Starter jacket. I wouldn’t see myself modeling in the mirror wearing either of them until 2 years later when the stickup targets shifted to lamb skin coats and puffed leather jackets.
Time Machines With Laces
Forty years after their birth, and 38 years after they were discontinued by Nike then resurrected by a coalition of Baltimore shoe vendors’ “color of the month” initiative, the Nike Air Force 1 is autographed with our memories and folklore. Decades later, having overcome my own spell with the hypnotism, with mixed feelings, I shuffle through my hard-earned collection of Nike Air Force 1’s “time machines with laces.” Though I relish every instance that I dress my feet in my favorite Air Force 1 Foamposites, I’m still dismayed when I consider the reality that even today, many of our youth and even adults are still hypnotized and struggling for the scraps we left behind while maintaining a mandatory pair of pearly, white on white, Air Force 1’s in their closet. Thirty-six years after 3 teens were wrongfully convicted for Dewitt’s murder, they walked into the sunlight beyond the bars, and ironically, the King of Sneakers, the Air Force 1 shoe still sits on the Iron Throne.