In the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” an inmate escaped wearing the warden’s shoes, prompting actor Morgan Freeman to ask “How often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”
For me the answer was never — until I saw a young girl making good her own escape.
It happened in a gym with polished floors, retractable seats and a parking lot of SUVs. That’s how fifth grade basketball was played south of the freeway in Houston.
Her team arrived in a station wagon — a coach and six black players from north of the interstate, an invisible wall. My daughter’s all-white team had basketball shoes and matching uniforms. The players from beyond the wall, neither.
Her shoes were plaid, low-cut boat shoes — the kind south-side girls might buy for a pool party or cruise. Now long discarded, with bottoms worn smooth from asphalt playgrounds, her shoes had made full circle.
Our girls’ quick cuts to the basket squeaked on the smooth wooden floor. The boat-shoe girl struggled to keep her footing, wiping her soles with her hand each time down the court
She played her heart out, every move more difficult by half than ours. Yet, despite the mismatch in equipment, etched in her face was not frustration, not anger — just determination.
I pulled for her, even as our girls pulled away. In the end her team capitulated, outmanned and exhausted.
As she walked past me to the station wagon, I wanted to apologize for the hard lesson learned on this side of the freeway.
That’s when it hit me. The student was me, the lesson courage, taught by a 10-year-old making her own escape to a better life, one step at a time — in another girl’s shoes.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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