Jemayne King, a professor at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina now offers an English course based on the culture around one of America’s favorite types of footwear: the sneaker. The course discusses with students the connection between sneakers and popular culture, and the effects of this type of connection. The sneaker culture class, English 296, is a topic that has long interested King and remains one of his favorite discussions.
King admits his participation in the hype over specific shoes and how the people that owned them felt connected to their icons in music and sports. King has openly shared his first personal experience with sneaker culture, ” One of the first shoes I wanted was the Ewing 33 Hi in the Knicks’ colorway. Patrick Ewing had a huge game to beat the Celtics in the  playoffs, something they hadn’t done in a long time, and it was cool to see the sneakers in team colors like that.”
The class discussions in the creative writing course include many related topics. Some include how many people involved in sneaker culture consider certain athletic footwear to be about more than just a way to cover their feet. The devotees tend to spend hundreds of dollars for one pair of shoes, to compete (sometimes physically) with others for the right shoes, or to stand in line for hours to gain ownership of sneakers. The effort speaks of something more than just a fashion style. To the people involved in the culture, the shoes are a sign of a certain lifestyle and a status symbol.
King, a Franklin County native, has his list of favorite sneakers. The professor, by his admission, maintains a collection large enough to be able to don a new pair of sneakers every day of the year – for a couple of years. Before beginning the class, King would often spend time discussing sneakers with his students. Many times, the conversations they had at his desk focused on King’s collections, particularly a pair of Nike Air Flightposite 3 Battlegrounds in metallic gold. The sneakers are a desirable and a rare item in the sneaker culture world, and many students expressed surprise to see them worn by a teacher.
The actual class discussions have included themes that those familiar to sneaker culture understand. The risks of wearing certain desirable sneakers in public and the disdain for buying counterfeit versions rather than the real brand. Topics cover the worry people have of fitting in when a budget does not make it easy to afford what everyone else has on their feet. King mentions the similarities of behaviors in this situation to how others feel and act regarding other branded items like handbags.
The class is not the only way King shares his experiences with and knowledge of desirable athletic footwear. The professor also has a personal apparel line named Sole Food Brand apparel and co-hosts a podcast called ” The Gentleman & the Jerk”. He recently authored a collection of stories, poems, and essays called ” Sole Food: Digestible Sneaker Culture”.
King hopes to eventually share his course with students in other universities. The course he offers is like all other creative writing courses according to the instructor. The students learn and connect on a subject that appeals equally to them all. The connection occurs, says the educator, despite the many different backgrounds and experiences of his students. King’s devotion to the theme and to the culture itself is unwavering. He continues to seek new ways to bring the topic into more discussions in more places.
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