EAST NEW YORK, Brooklyn (PIX11) – The NYPD Community Center runs a wide range of after-school programs, and now, one of those programs has led to an East New York teenager designing her own sneaker for retail giant Reebok.
Johlana Tatum, 15, who prefers to go by “Jojo,” is a budding sneaker designer with dreams of playing in the WNBA. Her color scheme and sneaker design is the winning entry in the contest, “Your Sneaker Story.” It’s a program run by the NYPD Youth Strategies Division in partnership with artist platform MARTK’D. MARTK’D’s founder, Dion Walcott, brought in shoe giant Reebok.
“I like to draw and they said sneakers, so I was like why not,” said Tatum, on why she entered the contest. “It feels good. I feel like I have something nobody else has and I can brag about it. I want to design my own shoe and play in the WNBA.”
Tatum has lofty goals and helping her dream big is the NYPD Community Center, which serves hundreds of children in the East New York area. Since 2018, their after-school programs range from sports to robotics to aviation to art and so much more. Organizers want the youth to have an outlet and help them realize their potential.
Sgt. Johnny James Hines III is with the NYPD Youth Strategies Division. “We’re trying to use what we have as the NYPD to give a different outlook and a different view of what they see every day,” said Hines.
“We’re trying to promote positive youth attitudes,” said Monique Porter, with the NYPD Community Center. “You have to do other things to keep their attention, you want to keep them off the streets so we have to find out what they like, what they want to get into, so we can develop programs around that.”
One of those programs turned out to be “Your Sneaker Story.”
“Everyone has a unique story, so we called the program ‘Your Sneaker Story’ and you attach your sneaker story to colors,” said Walcott.
“Blue is calm and I feel like I’m a calm person and purple is more complex it’s just me,” said Tatum.
From 50 students, it was whittled down to 10 designs with the finalists presenting in front of Reebok. Tatum was ultimately chosen the winner. Not only do the sneakers have her colors, but her name is on them as well.
“There are a lot of people of color in the community who are on the consumer side and not necessarily on the career side,” said Walcott, who works in the sneaker industry. “Everyone buys sneakers, but you don’t realize that for one sneaker, there are ten jobs, and some people don’t even realize those jobs exist, so use the thing they’re attracted to and point them in the direction of a career.”
Reebok has manufactured 50 of Tatum’s sneakers to give to her family and friends. Organizers hope to expand the program to partner with other shoe companies and apparel designers as well. They’re already gearing up for next year’s contest.