Tracionaa, a petite 7-year-old with a Christmas morning smile, puts on her new black, canvas shoes and then finds the closest mirror.
She sticks one leg out, examining the shoe closely. She nods and smiles.
“Kids’ smiles are the same, whether it’s South Africa or south Atlanta,” Georgia State men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter said.
Hunter and athletes from Georgia State were washing feet and giving away shoes on behalf of Samaritan’s Feet on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday at the Blank Family YMCA on Luckie Street. Some of the shoes were paid for as a result of the donations made at last week’s “Barefoot for Bare Feet” game.
Tracionaa was one of the 200 children who benefited.
“This is about giving, giving back,” her mother, Tracy Gipson, said. “We’re grateful to see the deal that God gave us in this time of hardship.”
Gipson moved her family to Atlanta from Oklahoma City last year to start a new life. The Atlanta Union Mission brought them to the YMCA on Monday. Some of the children who received shoes and socks are in at-risk programs at schools around Atlanta, according to Kaamel Nuri, executive director of the Blank Family YMCA. Nuri oversees various programs designed to improve the health and education of more than 500 kids in the city.
He and Hunter buzzed around the YMCA on Monday morning, each overseeing different things. Hunter would look the children in the eye and ask them their name, their age and how they were. Nuri would try to get the kids to check out some of the other activities the YMCA offers, like the cardiovascular exercises that some GSU athletes were leading.
Hunter said Monday’s effort was smaller-scale than the overseas trips he’s been on to give shoes. In places such as Nigeria, where he went last year, he said the lines stretch for miles and there aren’t enough shoes to help everyone.
On Monday that wasn’t the case. The children would play with some athletes and other volunteers in the gym at the YMCA until they were brought across a hallway where Georgia State’s athletes would begin washing their feet. Most of the time the kids would enthusiastically slap hands before they sat down. Some times they were a bit overwhelmed. As the athletes would gently clean them, another volunteer would ask them or someone who brought them what size shoe they needed and what color they preferred.The volunteer would go to the supply room where the shoes were stored — many colors, many sizes — and bring back what was hoped for.
Tracionaa wanted black, so she was happy. She seemed to like the Samaritan’s Feet logo, two bare feet, on the side of her shoes.
While the goal is to help the children, Hunter said he hopes his team realizes the blessings they’ve received. Senior Jihad Ali said he spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the YMCA, so this was especially gratifying to him.
“This is doing something for them, but it’s doing something for us,” Ali said.
“This is a very special day, being Martin Luther King day,” senior James Fields said. “Giving shoes to these kids, this helps my soul.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu
I posted photos from Monday’s event on twitter, if you would like to see them.