MISSOULA — Nothing signifies the start of school like a new pair of tennis shoes, but for sixth grade student James Reed, a regular pair of sneakers wouldn't suffice in getting the school year started.
“I wanted Converse and I went to converse.com and I saw that there was a thing where you could customize some shoes,” said the 11-year-old.
James enjoys math class, video games, and he also has an artistic side, so it only made sense that he design his new school shoes.
“I custom-made my shoes and I thought they were really cool.”
He paid for the shoes himself, and according to his mom Leland, every day for two months he asked if they had arrived in the mail yet.
When they finally graced the front porch of his home, “It was like Christmas,” according to Leland.
The multi-colored Chuck Taylors looked even better than James had pictured. Royal blue and black fabric, rainbow shoelaces, and “yeet” written on the side, there were no others like them.
Yet, not long after the shoes arrived, they went back into the box.
“I just noticed that he put on an old pair of shoes that didn't really fit anymore, and that morning I just asked, ‘Hey James, why aren’t you wearing the shoes that you designed, they're so awesome,’ I said, ‘Did they not feel right?’ And the mood in our household changed,” said Leland.
When the shoes debuted at school, they weren’t interpreted as the one-of-a kind sneakers James thought they would be seen as.
“Kids his age were calling them gay and telling him he was gay and yelling at him down the hallway.”
Leland shared the story online and within hours, the texts, emails, and phone calls changed the conversation around James’s shoes.
“People were reaching out to me that I didn't even know,” Leland told MTN News.
More families than they realized could relate to their story.
“This is not about shoelaces, not about being gay, not about my son James, this is about community, and how we can turn something negative and hurtful into something positive.”
Leland then ordered 300 pairs of rainbow shoelaces and set out to teach a lesson of acceptance.
“I left the 300 pairs of shoelaces outside in a bin in front of my house. I put my address on Facebook, and I would say within four days there were five pairs left.”
Through the shoelaces, James gained an army of support and a reminder that being unique isn't a bad thing.
If James had to give advice to someone else in his shoes, here’s what he’d say:
“Do what you want to do and don't let anybody put you down.”