How a local museum helped 100-plus Chicago Bears employees tell their stories through sneakers in the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign

When Sneakerhead University opened its doors on State Street in the fall of 2022, co-founders Shay Belvin and Mykol Branch started with just one room, three tables, and a bucket of 12 paints. Their goal was to preserve sneaker history and share stories through the medium of sneakers.

The idea for the sneaker museum was born while Belvin and Branch were students at North Carolina Central. They had previously run a Black empowerment T-shirt Business called “HBCU Made” and saw the potential for sneaker storytelling as a way to highlight important topics in Black history.

After studying marketing in college, Belvin and Branch decided to open their museum in Chicago, focusing on incorporating brands and people with ties to the city. They initially began by showcasing the history of sneakers, but soon expanded to include customization classes, allowing visitors to document their own sneaker history.

A little over a year later, Sneakerhead University collaborated with the Chicago Bears organization for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative, where over 100 members of the organization customized Nike Air Force Ones. This partnership allowed both players and staff, including Bears Chairman George McCaskey and President and CEO Kevin Warren, to support charitable causes through their custom footwear.

The idea for the organization-wide customization event was initiated by the Bears Young Professionals Employee Resource Group, reflecting the inclusive nature of the project. Sneakerhead University has since expanded to encompass multiple rooms of immersive sneaker history and has hosted private and public customization classes.

The event with the Bears marked a significant milestone for Sneakerhead University, providing an opportunity to help members of the organization tell their own stories through customized footwear. By allowing individuals to express their personal causes and experiences through their sneakers, Sneakerhead University has not only facilitated meaningful connections but has also enhanced their own appreciation for the art and culture of sneakers.

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