Shoe collection represents thousands of young people lost to gun violence

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

What once were David’s shoes now belong to his mother. For the past 20 years, she has shouldered the unthinkable — the death of her only child. The 18-year-old lost his life to gunfire.

“Right after he died, I kept hearing him say to me, ‘Mom, you got to reach out to the guys, you got to get to know them, you got to get to know them,'” said Elaine Lane.

Years after his death, Lane, a former Newark Public School teacher, says she began to listen to that voice. She developed a deep desire to share her story with children and teens, especially after realizing how many people are affected by gun violence.

“In the one year my son was killed, 3,792 kids under the age of 19 were killed that year from gun violence,” she said. “And so it was going on, it was going on in Newark, it was going on all over. And once I began to heal, I began to see that, and I said I have to do something about this.”

When she saw an exhibit of nearly 2,000 boots representing service members lost, she realized she too could use shoes as a way to impact young people. In 2007, Lane launched the nonprofit David’s Shoes. She gives presentations at schools, churches and other community events.

“I said wherever there’s a kid, I’m going,” Lane said.

The theme of her presentation is honor. She talks to the students about honoring who they are, valuing life and valuing themselves.

“A lot more people need to hear it,” said 18-year-old Adbul-Nasir Morris.

Morris says he’s glad he listened to David’s story.

“It made me think back because I know a lot of people who really ended up like that,” Morris said.

David’s Shoes also provides book scholarships to young men in at-risk communities. They each receive $500 a year for the four years they’re in college, and so far the nonprofit has given out $34,000. The young men are also paired with mentors during that time.

Hillside Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Antoine Gayles is one of the mentors.

“It’s extremely important for the benefit of making connections, establishing relationships and letting students know that they are not in this alone, so when they have some difficulties they have individuals they can reach out to,” Gayles said.

There are tags attached to many of the donated shoes, along with the name and story of the young lives lost.

“It feels moving when you come to an event like this and people say honor yourself, honor your life, honor the things around you,” said 17-year-old Cheena Alston. “Then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to show that I care for others and I care for myself as well.”

Which is exactly what Lane wants to hear.

“When I meet with these kids and I see their positive attitudes and behaviors, that uplifts me because I know that there is a possibility that this kid is going to do it, he is going to honor his life,” she said.