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5 Lessons From the Alleged "Air Jordan" Sneaker Death

01/04/2012 11:11 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

Recently there were reported shootings and fights at stores, break in's and shoot-outs at malls, and even reports about the alleged death of a young man over the release of Air Jordan 11 Concord sneakers. In response to the release of these sneakers, urban communities have been the epicenter of this latest string of violence.

As reports begin to appear in the online media, including one about a mother who left her children in a locked car to shop for the sneakers as well as videotape showing fights on the long sneaker lines in stores, it becomes necessary to quickly take stock of the situation, and provide some lessons for parents, educators, and youth about the emerging issues surrounding the release of the latest installment of Air Jordans.

For parents, educators and youth, it's important to understand why these sneakers have such appeal, what the meaning behind this appeal is, and why it's important to avoid the trap of being a part of a machine that spawns financial irresponsibility and violence.

The first thing for us all to consider is that these sneakers are terribly overpriced, and are specifically targeted towards those who have the least. Many reports have stated that the cost of making these sneakers range between $5-$25 a pair. Considering that the new Jordan Concord sneakers are at least $180, the mark-up rate is beyond astronomical. This fact does not consider the scary correlation between the poor work/health/living conditions of the sweatshop workers who are making these sneakers, and the poor living/education conditions of urban youth of color who are buying them.

My intent here is not a call for the banning of Jordans and all material objects. Truthfully, if Jordans were eliminated, another status symbol would quickly emerge to take its place, and uninformed urban youth would flock to this item because savvy marketing and our culture of hero-worship drive them to it. I'm writing this piece from the perspective of a former urban student, understanding the appeal of feeling self-worth from owning the latest trendy item, as well as an urban educator, who understands that death and violence over material objects is a function of rampant poverty in the midst of financial distress.

The mentality of those wrapped into the Jordan quest is based on the belief that "I may not have enough money for a brand new home, but I can somehow stretch just enough for a brand new pair of sneakers. This mentality must be broken, and the latest Air Jordan violence can give us lessons

1) Reposition what status and value is for your children/students

While this may not be an easy first conversation, it is important to talk to youth about a value for self, and what they feel they makes them valuable. Parents and educators fail to realize that youth need these conversations on a regular basis so that kids and teens will understand that their value lies in their abilities and not what they adorn.

Ask youth "What makes you valuable?" What makes you important? And help them to answer these questions based on who they are, and not what they have.

Youth often believe that having the newest sneakers puts them on par with those who they see as more socioeconomically stable. It is important to show them that those who are truly well-off probably do not wear Jordans, or even care what day they are released.

2) Show kids the incredible mark-up on the sneakers and how they're being deliberately targeted to them

Youth are not given enough credit for understanding the economics and politics surrounding the issues of their worlds. By presenting the facts about the mark-up on sneakers mentioned above, having them calculate this mark-up, mentioning to them that Nike made $1 billion dollars off the Jordan brand, they become more aware of the issues surrounding the sneaker and the role they play in maintaining the bottom line of billionaires. Having this type of discussion shows youth that they are being victimized, and introduces them to how race, class and oppression play out as a microcosm when they buy Air Jordans.

3) Make a case for individuality

My rule of thumb when talking with students about these types of issues is to make a case for individuality, being a trend-setter, and purposefully moving away from what everyone else wants. For youth, their individuality is valuable to them even as they struggle to fit in with others. I always use the example that my thick framed glasses, which were a reason for me to be teased when I was younger, have suddenly emerged to become a fashion trend. Have conversations about the inevitable cycle of fashion, and that following trends actually makes you less fashionable. Even though I am not always an advocate for the messages they send, I use artists like Lady Gaga or even Lil-Wayne as examples of how dressing like everyone else or wearing the same sneakers as everyone makes you less of an individual.

4) Teach youth to stay away from a culture of immediacy

The chief driving force behind many companies' successes is the creation of exclusivity in their products and making people feel an urgency to own them. It's important for parents to talk to youth about not needing to have something right away. This requires parents and educators who model restraint, and who are not on the lines for the Jordans with the children. The motto to share with youth is, "If I don't have them today, will I live?" If the answer is yes, then it isn't that important.

5) If you can't afford 'em, don't buy 'em

Contrary to many educational reports and news stories about the false notion that urban parents do not care for their children and do not teach them values, the reality is that many parents choose to purchase items like Jordans for their children because they do care about them. When one has no time to spend with children after working multiple jobs and attending school full-time, the easiest way to show love is by buying something that the child wants, even at the expense of financial stability.

I'm arguing that these parents love the hard way and NOT purchase items for their children if they feel morally conflicted or it's too expensive. Show the child how much money is coming into the family, how much is allotted for bills, and what remains afterwards, Youth often respond to reality a lot better than parents and educators expect.