by Jeff Henderson·
For the past three weeks I’ve had an oasis of conversation that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. For almost twenty years I’ve shared the highs and lows of being a Black footwear designer with D’Wayne Edwards and Jason Mayden. When D’Wayne asked about doing a podcast it was a no brainer. My team had already planned talks with folks in my circle and D’Wayne and Jason were tops on that list.
Our talks shed light on our resiliency within an industry that we had to break into even though our communities gave it life. We have talks about the dynamics of our professions, our daily lives and everything in between. And there will be some disappointed people because we have no idea what shoe is about to launch this upcoming weekend.
These conversations are my church, my therapy and my reality check from the 24 hour news cycle. The same happens with every conversation I have with all of my friends who I rarely talked with before. I’m not good at keeping up or reaching out. I was in Calabasas for two years before people knew I left NYC to work on Yeezy. Unless I was sleeping in your guest room or you were mentoring my son at cannabis talks (Bad Auntie) you would have had to guess through my cryptic IG posts on my private IG account.
Talking to people drains me. Being social is work. I can sit and draw or type for hours on end. Being in my own head is easy. Sharing what’s inside is difficult because I’m rarely confident that the words that leave my mouth match the concept that’s in my head. Then I find myself repeating the statement with a different order of words hoping the logic will appear, only to confuse the listener more.
If I know you know that I mean well, I’ll just talk.
But the cathartic experience is the listening. Hearing my friends talk about their lives — struggles and successes — give me a sense of order that I can’t explain. It feels like I’m not alone. It lets me worry about them less. It lets me smile when they tell a joke about their trauma because I had the same joke in my head.
The Real World
So I began reaching out to folks that I don’t know to hear their struggles and successes — in life and in Corona. I genuinely wanted to know how people were handling things.
The power of folks is encouraging. From healthcare workers and essential workers you can here there determination in figuring things out. The owner of the laundromat in my neighborhood is more than a small business owner. He practically runs a nonprofit on that corner with the services he personally provides — from career coach to emergency services — and he is processing the emotional, financial and physical struggles of the pandemic like everyone else.
In 5 minutes Sarge tells me about the reality that his businesses face (he also owns the building), his struggles of neighboring businesses and the support everyone needs but he isn’t waiting for. I tell him I need to record his point of view to share and he replies, “Any time.”
Just Another Day
This week was full. Video of a Black man murdered put a dent in the news cycle and a heavy heart in Black America. The actual event hurts but the ritualistic nature hurts more. For a day or two we tell the world how systemic these conversation is but the sad emoji response leaves us unheard.
I’m not numb to it, but I’m pretty close.
Twitter asked us to not watch the video because we’ll become desensitized to the killing of Black people. I think the people with the ability to fix it tomorrow are already desensitized because it doesn’t affect them. Hundreds of years of free labor followed by hundreds of years of visitor status doesn’t help.
Ironically I went for my 6:30 run to level set, not realizing that everyone else was doing so. 2.23 miles.
To close the week I had a sneaker drop-off with a physician friend who is volunteering at New York Presbyterian in Washington Heights. Local news wanted to capture the experience for a feel-good piece so Chris coordinated the effort.
If you’re reading this you already know that I randomly send shoes to teachers and healthcare workers and journalists through NinetyNine Products. But this was less random and less anonymous.
Ignoring my natural disdain for being at the center of attention — camera or no camera — my real struggle was with talking about my brand while giving. Talking about me sucks in general. Now I’ve got an ethical debate in my head.
But I believe that talking about what I’m doing encourages others to do what I’m doing.
So here I am in the middle of a Washington Heights hospital watching the waiting families struggle while the hospital staff seemingly go about their day as though nothing big is happening.
Just another day.
The nurses who joined me for the video were in good spirits considering they were dragged into the rain in their scrubs in the middle of their shift.
They are exactly what you’d imagine. Upbeat on the outside but probably beat on the inside. Not necessarily because of the pandemic but because they were simply at work.
The pandemic didn’t help, I’m sure.
None of that was triggering.
The camera man’s voice is what shook me.
“I’m parked next to the hospital setting up,” said the voice in my ear as the nurses gleefully checked out the free sneakers. “Walk down the street when you’re ready.”
We’d talked for weeks in preparation about not bringing the cameras into the hospital, but it was okay to pull his truck closer to the building. As I started to explain that he continued to tell me that he was just doing what he was told to do. He was just doing his job.
I tried to ask exactly where he was parking because I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses more than I already had.
He cut me off.
“I don’t want to take any chances so…” and then he hung up.
I was afraid he was going to pack up and leave so we rushed to corner to find him parked across from the armory.
White, middle-aged man. Just doing his job. He patiently directed us in the sprinkling rain as we jokingly talked about being of service and gratitude while security guard made sure we left room on the sidewalk for others passing by.
Without question the cameraman did his job seamlessly, but in every action during that 8 minute recording you could feel how shook he was. Maybe he’d had family that was sick. Maybe he worried about his own health or taking something back to his family.
I heard it in his voice over the phone. He was scared. Shook.
He never rushed us and even asked us to repeat a walk-by to highlight the shoes. I’ll definitely send him a pair.
But I couldn’t help but notice the way he carried his trauma versus the way the rest of us carried ours. He was the only white person on that rainy sidewalk. I’m guessing he didn’t have a podcast of friends with which to lean on hundreds of years of traumatic experiences to help laugh through this one.
This was his first rodeo.
And I could hear it.