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How a Lively Sneaker Party Helped Build Community Among Black High School Students in Los Angeles

The assignment was simple: wear your best kicks, dress to impress, and come ready to dance. And 200+ teenagers did just that at the Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, Calif., on Dec. 3. The fundraiser, curated by Private School Village’s (PSV) High School Council, included a DJ, sneaker contest, 3-D photo booth, sweet and savory waffles from the Waffltruck, candy and boba tables.

It was the party of the season for 200 Black teens, from 50 partner and non-partner private, independent and parochial schools in the greater Los Angeles Area. Patterned after their parents’ Sneaker Soirée, an annual fundraiser held in the spring, this student-led event was all about giving Black students a sense of belonging. Many of these precocious teens are the only Black student in their classroom.

While the academics at their respective schools are top tier, the social aspect is isolating. Black kids are forced to deal with microaggressions on their own, and their ability to reach their full potential can be impacted. Through programming, speaker series, parenting tips, and events for children pre-school through high school, PSV is able to foster community and support for Black children and parents.

The high school Sneaker Soirée was the first affair for 9th to 12th graders.

“Lisa and I knew we only had one shot to host a successful event for today’s “post-pandemic” teen. Several schools have hosted dances and only a few have been a hit, according to our highly critical teens,” said Nikea Johnson, Deputy Director of PSV.

Sneaker Soiree, Los Angeles, private school, backdrop
The party scene.

Neither Nikea nor PSV Founder/Executive Director Lisa Johnson (no relation to Nikea) needed to worry if the kids had fun. “It was a great way to meet Black students across L.A.,” said Johannes Austin, a sophomore at St. John Bosco High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Bellflower, Ca. “I was happy I went.”

Set against a backdrop of iconic pop culture memorabilia, the kids leaned into the theme: Athletes vs. Artists. They sported customized sneakers, Nike throwbacks, platform Chuck Taylors, Off-White Jordans and more.

With the help of the DJ, teenage jitters and stress gave way to mixing, mingling and a play list that was preselected by the High School Advisory Council.

A mosh pit ensued with kids jumping up and down in unison, screaming out song lyrics, and a few students broke out into solo performances in the middle of the pit to show off a few moves. Then, the sneaker competition took place. Over 75 kids lined up to be inspected by High School Advisory Council judges. Kids lobbied for themselves and their friends but in the end, only three lucky cash prize winners were selected: Nike Air Yeezy 1 Zen took top prize; a pair of Off-White x Air Jordan SP ‘Sail’ won second place; and rounding out the winners’ list was Nike Air Jordan 5 ‘Regal Pink’.

Selah Johnson, freshman at The Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, Ca, summed it up best: “The PSV Sneaker Soiree was incredible because it felt like the first time many of us could show up in a celebratory environment and be our whole selves. Without even knowing who every student was, there was a love and a bond we all reveled in.”

PSV was not the first to capitalize on the teen sneaker craze. High schools across America have added “kicks” or “sneaker clubs” to their mix of club options. After two years apart, teenagers are seeking commonality and a chance to engage in-person.

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