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Using sneakers to preserve identity

Spoken word artist Yusra Khogali (centre) speaking at the

UTSC student Yusra Khogali thinks deeply about the kind of shoes she wears every day.

“My kicks are a marker of my identity,” she says. “I feel like they are a part of my self-expression in how I present myself.”

A spoken word artist and vice president Equity for the Scarborough Campus Student’s Union, Khogali was a panelist at a recent UTSC discussion that sought to explore the emergence and history of the sneaker culture, its politics, economics and influence on social identity. She argues that by analyzing the ways in which sneaker culture came to be, people can understand the motivations of those who use it as a form of resistance and a symbol of social identity.

“Sneaker culture is connected to the many art forms and expressions that have been created out of communities that resisted the erasure of their identities,” she says. Such art forms also include hip-hop music and poetry.

Khogali is a fourth-year double major in International Development Studies and Women & Gender Studies. She uses her spoken word art to organize and process her resistance and to understand her identity. She uses poetry to define her place in society and urge others to appreciate her history as a black woman.

“My art facilitates my process of being independent and discovering what healing means in my own tongue and terms,” she says. “I use poetry to dismantle systems of oppression through consciously raising the struggles of my communities.”

Sneakers (also known as kicks, runners or tackies) were popular long before brands such as Air Jordan, Adidas, Nike, Puma and Reebok hit the market. More recently, companies have signed rappers to multimillion dollar contracts to advertise their shoes.

The panel discussion at UTSC, dubbed “I Got Sole” and moderated by Humanities and Social Science lecturer Miglena Todorova, also featured NBA TV Host Akil Augustine, Urban Street artist Angel Carrillo, visual artist and activist Mark Stoddart and co-founder of Lost Lyrics Natasha Daniel.

The sneaker culture project is a tri-campus artistic initiative that seeks to explore the subculture of sneakers in the lead up to the 2015 Pan Am Games. The first session took place at Hart House last February.  You can see a display of sneakers, designed by U of T students from all three campuses, at the entrance to the Arts & Administration building.

© University of Toronto Scarborough