The 2022 National Black Footwear Forum Honors the Accomplishments of Industry Legends

The 2022 National Black Footwear Forum was not only a platform for the next generation of industry insiders to absorb information critical to their future success. It was also an opportunity to celebrate those who have already accomplished monumental things in the space.

The four-day event — which was held in Detroit at the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design — featured the Blacklights Awards on Sept. 17, which recognized the accomplishments of several beloved designers, retail moguls and others.

Award recipients include True to Size Agency founder Jazerai Allen-Lord; The Whitaker Group founder James Whitner; YouTube sensation Jacques Slade; author and public speaker Kevin Carroll; creative director and co-founder of Burn Rubber, Cream Blends and Distinct Life Rick Williams; apparel design icon April Walker; and footwear design legend Wilson Smith.

Below are speeches from the award winners, as well as Edwards presenting to Carroll, that have been edited for clarity.

D’Wayne Edwards on Kevin Carroll
Kevin Carroll Student Lounge

D'wayne Edwards Kevin Carroll 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
D’Wayne Edwards (L) and Kevin Carroll at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“At Pensole Lewis, what we’re looking to do is build a modern college, and have the students build that college for us. What we’re looking to do is have our students build out and design all of our spaces. The other thing that we want to do is we want to do is dedicate these spaces to amazing Black geniuses like this brother here. Me, [footwear designer] Jeff Henderson and [former Nike design manager] E. Scott Morris would sneak up to Kevin’s area at Nike and decompress and recharge. That was the escape spot. The first space that we want to create here is the Kevin Carroll Student Lounge. You’re going to help the students design it, be their source of inspiration and insights — and I know they’re going to have fun doing this one.”

Rick Williams
Community Icon Award

Rick Williams D'Wayne Edwards 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
Rick Williams (L) and D’Wayne Edwards at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“I’ve worked a lot, I’ve worked a long time doing what I do, and a lot of the times you’re just looking to the next thing because it’s a hustle. This is how I live, this is how I eat, so you don’t really take the time to appreciate all of the work that you do. I’m here to inspire. That’s our job. I have people who work with me, who work for me, that I try to impart all of the knowledge that I’ve gained through the experience, through the people that I know. I’ve heard a lot of that during these panels, a lot about paying it forward and helping the next person. I believe that’s my job, that’s our job, for each one of us to see the goodness in each other and help grow. I’m here committed to helping this school and what’s going on here because I believe if I had something like this I would be even more different because my journey is different than most of the people who were out here. I bought a store and then convinced these companies that we needed to collaborate. They weren’t doing collabs when I started doing collabs. When I dropped that first New Balance, that wasn’t happening all the time. I had OGs that I looked to all the time like Leaders that were doing that stuff, and now we’re able to carry that torch and do that same thing from here and hopefully have more people from the city coming through this program and programs that are available to us to do the same thing.”

Jacques Slade
Media Award

Jacques Slade Scoop Jackson 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
Jacques Slade (L) and Scoop Jackson at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“When I was fired from Nice Kicks back in 2013, it could have been very easy for my wife to hit me with the, ‘Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring’ — but she didn’t. She gave the grace and she gave me the freedom to set up a green screen, some lights from Target and a point-and-shoot camera in our garage and start making content and putting it up on YouTube. I am forever grateful for that. I take what I do very seriously. I take it an honor, I take it as a privilege to be in a position that I’m in. That doesn’t make me special — but I work hard. I do not possess a skill or a talent that a million other people in this world don’t possess in some way or another, but I’m passionate. The way that I see it, I am blessed. And if you don’t believe in that, then I’m lucky. With that luck or blessing comes a certain amount of guilt, a feeling that I don’t belong here. Why me? What makes me special? What have I done to put me in that position? And while I do not have the answers to those questions, what God has put in my spirit is to be what Scoop [Jackson] and many others have been to me, to be a giant, to be a shoulder on which goes that come after me so they can see me to a future that I never thought was impossible. I know that the scope of our journey is still being written. The great scribe up above will have ideas and circumstances that will change me from the inside out, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me on the other side. While a part of me stands here right now in front of you screaming that this is not something that I deserve, I know that there’s a meaning behind it all that has yet to be written, and one day it’ll all make sense for those that come after me.”

Jazerai Allen-Lord
Women’s Advocate Icon

Portia Blunt Jazerai Allen-Lord 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
Portia Blunt (L) and Jazerai Allen-Lord at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“I definitely understand the gravity of this moment, and I stand here representing thousands of women who came before me who also like me were forged in the fire, but they never made it through the flames to see today. I am them, we are them and we are f–ing here, period. They called us crazy, they called this dangerous, they called us risky, but like white men do it they call it innovative, they call it disruptive, they call it iconic. Tonight, I stand before you as your icon. My father never taught me the word advocacy because in our community I think more is caught than taught, so he taught me through his actions. He marched with us alongside him for veterans rights and prison reform. My mother taught me through the power of faith. She gave me God and the space for him to find me and work through me. And my children, Zion and Seven, are my greatest teachers who always believed that their mama was magic and could make wishes come true by throwing pennies in fountains before anyone in here or in the world ever knew my name. I started all of this for them, but I do it every day for you all. And to the young women here who I’ve mentored, led, worked with, worked for, learned from, y’all are truly my icons. I kept going only for you, I spoke up only for you, I advocated only for f–king you and I’m going to keep going. I hope one day when people ask me, ‘When will you know that you’re done?’ When I can sit down and everybody in the room looks like me and there’s no reason for my work. I have to constantly remember that I was forged in the fire, and after being forced in the fire you become the flame. I am the flame today, we are the wildfire that will burn these systems down and light this b–tch on flame. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We said that in Obama’s time, but I think we really need it today. Dr. D’Wayne has told us that they’ve left the door cracked and if we all check it open it’s on us. I employ all of you to stand up, to speak out, to live loud, to never ever forget who you are, for standing your truth regardless of who it makes you uncomfortable. Not everybody is going to like you, but all you need is one believer and I’m so thankful to my believers today.”

James Whitner
Entrepreneur Award

James Whitner Kris Wright 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
James Whitner (L) and Kris Wright at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“Entrepreneurship, for me, it’s probably a big term. I speak a lot to try to give information back because I remember starting. For me, entrepreneurship is about passion, it’s about belief in itself, it’s about acting. From where I’m from, you can’t talk about much because it’s just talking, it’s just words. Twenty years ago today, I walked myself into FCI Loretto to start a bid. Most people are like, ‘Damn, that’s tough.’ But when I walked in, I was never was never shook, not scared or anything. I was never worried about my future. I was supposed to be going back to finish my senior year of college, but instead I was going to go start a four-year sentence. I never thought about my classmates and professors thinking here’s this dude who had such a bright future and he threw it all the way. I was thinking to myself like, ‘This is kind of the start of my future.’ I didn’t think about this until I tore up the speech that I wrote because I think the thing that we have to remember is we make our own table. I knew early on where I was from that I could never work for someone because I understood the box that I put my thinking in. I tried, and I respect leaders of people in the institutions that employment creates for us, but I knew that I was an underdog. I was a felon, so in the world’s terms, I failed, it’s over for me. The world would never accept me. At 21 years old, my life meant nothing. I wasn’t going to let that be my story. I say that to say, this is our table, this is our story, this is our opportunity. All of this is ours, nobody can take anything from us. We get to create our seats at the table, built the table so it’s our table. It’s a very high honor to put my name on an award, and I will continue to earn and to build legacy and put meaning behind it.”

April Walker
Legend Award for Apparel Design

April Walker D'Wayne Edwards 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
April Walker (L) and D’Wayne Edwards at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“I started this journey in 1987. I just believed in something bigger than myself, and that’s how the journey started. To see all of you beautiful people and young people — and particularly Black and brown people in this audience — it’s the dream realized for me. When I see you, I see myself. I do the work now for you because I want you to see the possibilities. I did it without technology as a Blaxican woman in an all-male-dominated industry, I kicked in the door — but you can do it even bigger and better, and I know that you will with a school like this. This school is made with love, it’s made with intention, it’s made with greatness, it’s made with everything you need and when you come out of here, you’re going to see the world differently and be able to apply the world differently and be able to change the world differently. I’m grateful to see what’s going to manifest from this school and from all of you creators. Shine the light on somebody else because you already have the light. Let that create contagious behavior. That’s how we help create a healthy ecosystem. I’m honored to be with such greatness and receive the award with so many people that are doing service and being the service to our communities, our culture. Lateral cooperation creates vertical movement. This is a testimony to that. And as Killer Mike says, ‘If all of us do a little bit, no one has to do a lot.'”

Wilson Smith
Legend Award for Footwear Design

Wilson Smith 2022 National Black Footwear Forum
Wilson Smith at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Black Footwear Forum

“The word says, ‘Let another man praise you and not your own lips,’ so I’m going to praise you. What you’ve done is unbelievable. Your vision and what you’re all about has just been so inspiring. And I just, I’m an Yamahas out of the shadows, and We’ve talked about me being the first Black designer, but D’Wayne was the second. It’s like Elijah and Elisha. Elisha kind of exceeded Elijah. You are highly respected, and I love the work that you’ve done. I am proud of you. I am proud of each of you in this room. Each of you are bold enough to come here are and I’m proud of each of you and your futures that are going to exceed all the rest of us. One thing I’ve been thinking about, that I’m so reminded of now at this part of my career, is that we as Black and brown people, we may do our own thing but it’s about others. It’s as horizontal as it is vertical. It’s going in all directions all the time, and we’ve got to lift one another up as well as whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re involved with. Each person that I know, the creatives that I’ve been with over the years, a lot more part of this. They’re the ones who have been intentional about reaching out to the sides and think about people like Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson and Ashley Comeaux and Precious Hannah and Eliya Jackson. I love hearing all their stories and hearing how they are making a way for others as well as their own selves. The groups have been filled with amazing people all day. Some of the creatives that I worked with — Jeff Henderson, Jason Mayden, E. Scott Morris, Kevin Carroll, Scoop Jackson, Shawn Williams, everybody who have been doing amazing work. Everything that you do, be intentional about it. I’m just proud of you. Being the first Black [sneaker designer], I did not expect to see a room full — and his room is full and it’s going to be even fuller. It’s exciting. For myself, my current journey, I’m all about the next generation. That’s my passion. I’m still inside of the company, but my heart is all about the next gen, about moving away, about creative ways of connecting. I was so honored recently. Another brother who is thinking about others outside of himself, Wade Ray at Nike, he’s a marketing guy at Nike, he wanted to create a shoe that told my story, which is crazy. I was thinking about him because he asked me for a quote to put in the shoe. The quote I gave was, ‘In humility, count others more significant than yourselves.’ I get that vibe here from everyone. The best way for it to be about you is for it not to be about you.  The best way to make an opportunity is to try to make an opportunity for someone else. That’s what is beautiful about this place, about each one of you, and I’m honored to be a part of that journey as well. If my life is what I dreamed it would be, it wouldn’t be as interesting as it is. The other thing I would I just say is the notion of humility is a huge thing. That’s something that I try to keep in check. I kind of backed into the footwear industry. For each of you, think of making yourself the kind of person who has the kind of skill sets and things that you can apply to any area, it doesn’t have to just be shoes. Look outside of the box because you could apply it to all kinds of things. Find yourself, be yourself, be adaptable with those amazing skills you’ve got and be grateful.”

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