Collection Of Kids' Shoes Carries Message About Gun Violence

Old shoes can tell a story. A mother in New Jersey is hoping her exhibit of old shoes will help young people avoid violence. She's trying to collect a pair of shoes connected to every young person killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 1998 — the year her son was shot to death.

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A mother in New Jersey has set out to collect shoes, 3,792 pairs of shoes, one for each young person killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 1998. That was the year that her son was shot and killed as we hear from Sarah Gonzalez of New Jersey Public Radio.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Elaine Lane came up with the idea of collecting shoes after walking a path of military boots that represented lives lost in the Iraq War. She couldn't finish the trail, but it gave her an idea.

ELAINE LANE: Just maybe kids would feel the same way because I'll collect shoes. I can get shoes for kids around their ages.

GONZALEZ: She started the antiviolence program called David's Shoes in 2006, taking her trail of shoes, including the tattered brown work boots her son was wearing when he was shot, to schools around New Jersey, telling students as young as elementary school age that her son was shot seven times. Kids ask if David was her only child. She answers that he was, and you can see the grief behind her brown, almond-shaped eyes.

LANE: I don't want what I went through another mother to go through that. And I don't want another child to be killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No, don't touch it. Don't touch it.

GONZALEZ: At Camden Street School in Newark, 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls walk between the rows of sneakers and boots laid out on a stage in the cafeteria. Tied to the shoe laces of every pair is a laminated tag with a description of the young lives lost.

ALY DOUKOURE: Deshawn Johnson, who was shot to death, was a former wide receiver for Weehawken High School, October 8, 2005. He was 18 years old.

KYSHAEL MARTIN: Michael Hallow, age 17. After killing his girlfriend, May Davis, he shot himself with the same rifle, March 2008.

GONZALEZ: Aly Doukoure(ph), Kyshael Martin(ph) and Olga Tapia kneel down to read each description.

OLGA TAPIA: Gunned down in Newark, New Jersey. Gunman demanded his gold chain and shot him.

GONZALEZ: Some of the children died in these shoes. Others were donated by friends and family in honor of the young people who died. Elaine Lane is still surprised by just how much shoes resonate with young people.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes, Jordan, Nikes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Nikes. Chucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, I got on Jordans.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Timberlands.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, that's Fubu.

TYNEIKIA ROBINSON: I'm a big sneaker head. Well, we call each other sneaker heads if you like sneakers a lot. When I see these sneakers this girl has, like, she was wearing Barbie, I can see that she really loved sneakers because she really love - she had a taste. She liked Barbie.

GONZALEZ: As they walk the trail, Tyneikia Robinson and her friend Lamani Bruce can start to see the people who once laced up the scuffed, worn-out sneakers. One tag reads: Usef Johnson, an honor student at University High School, was shot twice as he walked home, August 10, 2005.

ROBINSON: That is crazy. He's an honor student. And we are both honor students, me and Lamani, and we want to go to University High School.

LAMANI BRUCE: Yeah, we want to go to University High School...

ROBINSON: ...so we can play basketball there. And it's scary. Like, older kids, older than me are dying from high schools that we want to attend.

GONZALEZ: They say they can see themselves being the next victims.

ROBINSON: Yes, I honestly do. My stepfather, his son was gunned down. His son got shot, I think, a year ago in Newark, New Jersey. He was shot to death.

GONZALEZ: The goal of the exhibit was to open the door for conversations about guns in the community, and it did. It was almost as if the kids who were shot and killed were standing there before them. For NPR news, I'm Sarah Gonzalez.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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