It started with a 9-year-old boy who had holes in his shoes.
When Jacarrie Carr, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student, saw the boy and heard about his desire to play basketball, he felt compelled to act.
Carr took to social media and asked as many people as he could for size 5 sneakers for the boy, who attended a day care center run by Carr’s mother. Soon after, someone Carr had never met messaged him on Facebook, saying he had a pair of shoes for the “little man.”
A few days later, Carr encountered a man with mismatched shoes asking for change outside a gas station. They had the same shoe size, so Carr handed over a pair of his own LeBron James sneakers.
“I never felt so happy,” recalled Carr, a 25-year-old graduate student studying cultural foundations of education.
The encounters led Carr to found a nonprofit, Jacarrie’s Kicks for Kids, which is expanding this year to include a fall fashion show and holiday toy giveaway, in addition to an annual back-to-school shoe drive.
“I often tell him I wish I could clone him and have 10,000 Jacarries,” said Alan R. Shoho, dean of the School of Education at UWM.
“If we had 10,000 Jacarries, I think we would have made more progress in the social and educational issues in Milwaukee,” he added.
Carr grew up in the city and credits his parents with keeping him focused on education. His mom operates a day care center on Appleton Ave., where Carr now shares an office for his nonprofit, and his dad has a landscaping and maintenance business. Carr also cites an eighth-grade teacher who pushed him to excel in the classroom as a positive influence.
When Carr first got the idea to give away shoes to those in need, he was an undergraduate student at UWM and taking a class taught by Deborah Blanks that detailed how to create a community organization, from the articles of incorporation to staffing to budgeting.
“It helped me to understand you need a board, you need volunteers, you have to make sure everything you’re doing is legal,” Carr said. “Me, as only one person, cannot help all these people.”
Carr told Blanks his idea and she used it as a class model.
“The whole class got very involved in looking at his organization and helping him and planning how he might implement it,” said Blanks, an assistant professor of education policy and community studies.
“We’re in a department where we’re really focused on how do we bring about positive change, especially in the way of community organizations,” she said.
In November 2014, Carr gave away 560 pairs of new or gently used shoes he had collected through friends, family, classmates and strangers who saw his social media posts. He scheduled his next giveaway for August 2015 to help families before the start of the school year. He partnered with Pi Lambda Theta, an education honors society, and placed seven bins at local businesses and around campus for donations.
He ended up with 1,005 pairs of shoes — mostly for children, but also some adult heels, loafers and sneakers — and gave them all away. This year, he partnered with UWM and the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee. With double the number of donation bins, Carr was able to collect 1,025 pairs of shoes. He distributed them in August at a three-hour giveaway that also included free haircuts.
Even as Carr balanced his graduate classes, a part-time university job and substitute teaching, he thought: “What else can I do?”
“People are looking at me like a resource,” he said. “I don’t want to help once in a while and then I’m gone.”
That’s how the fall fashion show was born. The event will feature local boutiques and designers at the Astor Hotel on Nov. 6. The proceeds will fund a toy giveaway every Saturday during December.
“I’m trying to bring all of us together, so we can have some type of unity,” Carr said of the local participants. “I think as a city we’re missing a lot of unity.
“We can help each other and uplift each other in ways that we could not do alone.”
For Blanks, his former teacher, it’s also vital for the local community to encourage young African-Americans, like Carr, and recognize their ideas.
“They have a lot of enthusiasm and strong commitment to their community,” she said. “How we embrace them and support them is important.”
If you go:
What: Fall Fashion Show benefiting Jacarrie's Kicks for Kids
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 6
Where: Astor Hotel Ballroom, 924 E. Juneau Ave.
Cost: $10 presale tickets, $15 at the door
For information on how to buy presale tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org.