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Youth Radio: For The Love Of Sneakers

group shot of 2016 youth reporting interns
Elizabeth Baier
Emmanuel Tobe (far right) and the WUNC's 2016 Youth reporting interns.

This story is part of WUNC's 2016 Youth Reporting Institute, an annual summer program that teaches young people how to tell stories about their community in their own voice.

Meet: Emmanuel Tobe
Age: 17

Jamal Stinson is freaking out -- there is dirt on the bottom of his shoe.

"Oh my god this is terrible. They're not coming out," said Stinson, 17, a sneakerhead. "Where did this come from?"

As a sneakerhead, Jamal is obsessed with the newest Jordans and Nikes coming out and he is on his way to the mall to purchase a ticket for the Jordan OG Metallic 5's.

"They're so beautiful and they'll be my first pair of Jordans, he said. "The 5's were designed off the fighter jet, and fighter jets are designed for the military to fly through very smooth, and that's how the shoe is, very smooth."

a line of sneakers on the floor
Credit Emmanuel Tobe / WUNC
2016 Youth Reporting intern Emmanuel Tobe's sneakers.

Jamal bought three tickets from three different stores to make sure he gets the Metallic 5's, but the tickets don't guarantee the shoe. For exclusive shoes you only the get a pair if your ticket is pulled from a raffle. People go to extremes for shoes and when they get them they do anything to keep them nice and clean. This includes my friend Alyssa Daniels.

"I walk funny so I don't get creases on my shoes. I watch where I step. I look down [the] majority of the time when I walk  so I make sure I don't step in gum or anything like that and they got to be clean," she said.

"How long do you spend like cleaning your shoes on the daily?" I asked her.

"An hour. This is sneakerhead culture. You have to understand this is life," she said.

Turning a passion for sneakers into profit

Seventeen-year-old Oliver Hill shares Jamal and Alyssa's passion for shoes, but Oliver has turned his passion into profit. He buys and sells shoes online.

"There were times I was bringing in over a thousands dollars a month just selling shoes," said Hill, adding he's made enough money from sneakers to buy two cars.

"The first car that I bought strictly off of shoe money was just a Mazda 6," he said. "Then, I decided to sort of expand to bigger things and I bought a 2001 ZO6 Corvette."

Being a sneakerhead is a state of mind

Similar to Hill, Alex Spruell sells exclusive sneakers, and makes a profit doing it. Alex owns Kulture Lifestyle Boutique, a sneaker store in Durham.

"It's like a disease," Spruell said. "Once you have somebody close to you who is obsessed with sneakers and obsessed with looking fresh and you're like ‘I got to be like this guy. What am I doing I like my shoes but they're not like this. Maybe I can step it up a little bit'."

Spruell said he's been into sneakers since high school. He's now 22 -- and still really into it.

"You grab your brand new pair of sneakers and you smell the inside of it, it gives you a great feeling like I gotta have this feeling again, this high again," Spruell said. "Some people go broke trying to buy new shoes, it becomes a mindset thing where social media comes into play. Where if you don't have new shoes then you're nothing."

I love shoes. They grab people's attention, and make me different. When I got my first job I was spending most of money on shoes. I'll admit it. I am a sneakerhead. I’m actually going to be using part of my paycheck from WUNC to buy a new pair of shoes.  

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