HECUA classrooms

HECUA Classrooms series: These Shoes Project

HECUA programs offer students a chance to think deeply about the issues that matter most, and we’d like to share a piece of that experience with you. This past semester, students in our Inequality in America program wrote a series of blog posts on a topic of their choosing. The only instruction? Select a theory or reading that intersects with your own lived experience. Over the next few months we’ll publish those powerful reflections from our Inequality students, starting with this one, from Kaitlyn Gayle Howell. You can find all of the posts by searching the HECUA classrooms category on our blog.

These Shoes Project

By Kaitlyn Gayle Howell

The best way to get to know a person is to take a walk in their shoes. Unfortunately, we don’t all fit into each other’s shoes. Some of us don’t even care to wonder what it would be like. The following shoes and stories belong to high schoolers attending Avalon School in St. Paul.

a grey converse-like sneaker with brown zippers and white laces.

These shoes are worn day-in and day out. They provide great ankle support. They spend most of their time at school, with friends, or biking. They travel to Bloomington on the weekends to walk the streets at night with a best friend from middle school. They like walking the streets in Bloomington because the worst thing they’ll come across is a poor soul addicted to methamphetamine. They currently live in an apartment in Midway. They’ve lived in eight homes previous, in various neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. They’ve been mugged, they’ve been to parties, they’ve been on the bus. These shoes smile and think critically about social issues. These shoes don’t know where they’ll be after high school. Probably St. Paul College, ‘cause everyone tells them that college is something they just gotta do.

a puffy pair of sneakers with a floral print on a black background and think black laces.

These shoes are an activist. These shoes were discovered at The Exchange, a shot clinic, food shelf, and clothing shelf located near Uptown. These shoes volunteer at Reclaim, an organization that provides health services and therapy for trans folks. These shoes are size five. They boast confidence! And are worn only during times when the feet inside them are feeling unconfident and body confused. These shoes kind of catch on themselves when they are walking sometimes. They tend to overcommit and help others at the price of their own health. These are beautiful, they are handsome, they are strong.

Black and grey low top hiking shoes

These shoes are days old. They’re hiking shoes, replacing past brethren that usually get worn out within 3-6 months. These shoes don’t do a lot of hiking, per say, but rather get worn every day, riding the bus, walking to school, going out on the weekends. They are warm and comfortable. Beyond their transportation, these shoes enjoy not doing much–they like that. These shoes are a filmmaker, a photographer, a music listener. These shoes are a good friend.

These shoes have been through a lot of different schools recently. These shoes, black converse, have been the style worn on these feet every day, day in and day out, since the third grade. These shoes are black and white, like every piece of clothing worn with them. These shoes wake up at 7 and put on makeup every morning. These shoes play the base. These shoes don’t say a lot, but have a great smile. These shoes aren’t sure they’ll make it through high school–they might drop out–but they have been coming to school, and that’s what counts.

caramel suede work boots, with blonde laces

These shoes are a rapper. They can’t put out any beats, but that’s what friends are for. These shoes are a joker, and enjoy studying psychoactive drugs. These shoes were purchased to go sledding, but aren’t real good for any other kind of physical activity. They’re an off-brand, they look like leather but they’re not. These shoes have lived in Minnesota their whole life, and describe themselves as an explorer.

How These Shoes are documented:

The author is an intern at Avalon School. She asks various students if it would be ok to take a photo of their shoes, and to ask a few questions about them. For the next five to twenty minutes, students talk not only about their shoes but also their life story. These stories are then written in shortened blurbs to accompany the photo of the student’s shoes. Students’ names are withheld to give readers a sense of “this could be kid that I pass by on the street”.


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