Zaire Downs is just 13, but his conscience and heart belong to a very old soul.
To spare his classmates the shame and humiliation of not having good enough shoes to wear to school, he launched a neighborhood drive to collect sneakers in kids’ sizes.
He collected 100 pairs of Nikes, Jordans and Adidas, and at a Saturday giveaway in Rochester, New York, more than 400 people stood in line, hoping to snag a pair.
The seventh grader became attuned to social justices earlier this year, his mother said, as Black Lives Matter demonstrators protested the deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers.
He asked his mother, Tamara Leigh, why kids couldn’t protest, and she told him that they most certainly could. So the two, with the aid of a city councilman, set up a June youth march in downtown Rochester that turned out to be a success.
The shoe drive was his next idea.
“He felt like it was really important for kids to always walk in the first day [of school] with a fresh pair of sneakers. It gives them confidence and makes them feel good about themselves,” Leigh said.
He also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy sneakers for kids. He’s raised more than $2,000 and he hopes to purchase shoes for some of those who stood in line this weekend but didn’t get a pair.
Families have been invited to email and nominate deserving children. Thus far, Leigh said, they’ve received notes about survivors of fires, cancers and domestic violence.
She and her son hope to buy sneakers for all of those kids before school starts on September 7.
The incredible peer pressure, especially among young boys, to have an acceptable brand of sneakers can lead to humiliation and bullying, the mother and son say.
And in some cases, it can prompt kids to avoid coming to school at all, according to Zaire.
“My son has always been amazing and empathetic and picked up on things other people his age might miss,” said his proud mother.
“I’ve always taught him he can do absolutely anything he puts his mind to.”