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credit: Maria Nevarez

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Banned By Breaking Barriers

As legend has it, October 18, 1984, changed the sneaker game, on and off the court, to represent Banned Day. The NBA’s submission of a letter banning this Jordan 1 along with $5,000 fines when he didn’t comply never prevented Michael Jordan from going against the grain. Neither did what society and circumstance tried to convince these exceptional women that I was able to catch up with. Walking into a spacious studio in Chicago, the welcoming energy of the room was locked into capturing them, they donned fly pieces of the (Her)itage collection, paired with the black and red AJ 1’s. I was lucky enough to catch their stories, in between shots, and I left even more inspired than I came, that day.

courtesy of Jordan Brand | Akilah Townsend

DJ Cash Era graced my first sit down, as we dove into her being a Black Queer woman in the male dominated space of DJ’ing. She described how she saw this as a strength instead of a hindrance since she can tap into spaces that aren’t one-dimensional. “I don’t see it as a challenge, I see it as just like this is what I want to do, so I’m gonna do it. I’ve never really been the type to allow anyone, or anything stop me or truly hinder me from getting to what I want. I wouldn’t say I’m the first to create this space, I think I’m more so someone continuing to push the envelope and just making it broader and a little bit wider for people to come in after me, and I just hope they can take it further than I even have. I never want anyone to say, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” I want you to be better than me.”

We discussed how Columbia College in Chicago aided in her creative process as a DJ. She explained that being at Columbia, taking the DJ course, it was simply seen as an easy A, treated like an elective, and believed to be one of the only students to take that class and make a full career out of it. “And it’s crazy that I went to school 4 years, and I took one class my freshman year and that’s what set my career to what it is now.”

Like Drake said, “sports and music are so synonymous.”  So, with them overlapping, I probed if Casera had a passion for sports that aligned with her love of music. She laughed in response, while exclaiming that she does enjoy sports. Ironically, one of her first big gigs was DJ’ing the Northwestern football and basketball games. She plays basketball in her free time when she’s not busy cheering on all Chicago team sports. Like she stated, “I’m Chicago all day, through and through. I watch the Sox play, the Cubs, whoever. I just want to see Chicago win.” Just as the Chicago Sky are playing in the WNBA championship.

credit: Maria Nevarez

I had to ask her which pair of grails that she had yet to get her hands-on, and she replied with the AJ1 Tokyo Bio Hacks. “I want those. I’m 10.5 in Men’s so I got big feet. These are my first time wearing women’s shoes,” as she pointed at her Bred AJ1’s.

I followed up with needing to know how she incorporates sneakers into her DJ’ing style. Her order follows as picking out the sneakers first, then the shirt, and lastly, the bottoms.

Lastly, I asked about her favorite pair of Jordans she owns and the story behind them. She referenced 2020 All-Star Weekend. “I did an activation at one of the Nike stores and they gifted me a pair of Jordan 11’s and that was nice. I walked in, and they were like, “here, we have this gift for you!” It’s snowing outside, so I didn’t wear my nice shoes. Let me put these on in the store, and when I leave, put my other shoes back on.”

courtesy of Jordan Brand | Akilah Townsend

I got the chance to sit with Aja Johnson next, as we began discussing how her journey felt, doing what was organic to her, not knowing who she was inspiring along the way. She explained how trying to be an inspiration wasn’t even on her radar. Growing up with two older sisters who were always girly, and her, a tomboy, was a dynamic she had to fight daily. She would play football with her boy cousins, whether it was on the concrete or the grass. When she got to high school, she was elated to join the football team, yet that was short lived. Her parents said no, as they were being protective of her, but so did the football coach. Having no choice other than to pivot, she started a dance team. Fast forward some years, after graduating college and returning to Chicago, she saw a flyer for a prominent football league and went in as a free agent, and from thereon forth, she built her way up, and is now playing on one of the best co-ed teams in the city.

We tapped into what her personal style looks like now, while having played football and being a dancer. She stated, “I’m definitely streetwear, true to the Chicago streetwear but I’m making my own style. I have like a grunge aesthetic, but it’s still like sophisticated. I wear the baggy stuff and sneakers, I collect Jordan 1’s. I shop in the men’s section, but I still make it my own. But then, I also have my days where I put on a dress and some heels. Best of both worlds.”

credit: Maria Nevarez

It was only right I ask what her favorite Jordan 1 is, and she responded with her all-time favorites being the Shadows, then the Royals, and feeling the Mochas lately, as well. She added that she was still waiting to cop the Bred 1’s, as needed grail. Lastly, I had to snag a sneaker confession, by asking the craziest thing she’s done for a sneaker. “I paid $600 for my Shadows. At first, they weren’t that crazy. After The Last Dance came out, the prices went crazy, and I waited that late to get them. Because I had another pair, but those were ran through. Got them on GOAT. I had to do it.”

courtesy of Jordan Brand | Akilah Townsend

Ana Sierra’s vibrant personality greeted me as she entered the building to get ready for the shoot. As she sat in her makeup chair, I was able to exchange and engage. I began by referencing her being banned to play basketball with the boys as a kid, setting the trajectory of her journey. Ana said how that moment made her. It reflected on what was to follow in her journey. “I didn’t know that ASWBL (Ana Sierra Women’s Basketball League) was going to grow like the way it did either. It resonates of how MADE for the W, and not knowing how big it would turn. Same thing here, I was just wanting to hoop, and there was a huge a void of women’s basketball, girls’ basketball. My slogan is #GirlsHoopToo and #WomenHoopToo, birthed by that early experience, being told by a group of boys of what I couldn’t do. “

credit: Maria Nevarez

With Ana having played basketball from the age of 8 to now, being 33, I asked her to walk me through what got her to this point. She emphasized how it takes a village. She explained how she had an amazing support system, despite being a Chicago a transplant by way of New York, but that’s how deep the love has been here for her. Growing up, Ana faced a lot of roadblocks. “That narrative, that stigma about women and athletes. It’s about time we get recognized and we receive the respect we should’ve had a long time ago. I feel like we’ve always been the stepchild, always coming after the men. I’ve been a part of several projects with Jordan Brand, and I will continue to be an advocate.” In discussing what the game of basketball represents to her, she said it saved her and showed her what life was life outside of her borough. “Basketball got me out the hood. I was able to explore the world. A little girl coming from the Bronx, I never thought that would happen. Basketball was that place where I felt safe. I’m the first generation of many things, my parents came from the Dominican Republic, and we didn’t have much growing up. First generation to graduate college. First to leave NYC and change the cycle.”

Ana’s unique path was customized to her personal purpose.  She didn’t go D1 from high school but instead went the route of junior college. She then achieved a basketball scholarship to go to an HBCU, as she always had told herself that everybody’s story and career path is different, by prioritizing direction being more important than speed. 

Because we are MADE for the W, where we love sports and sneaker culture, to finish it out, I had to ask Ana what are her favorite Jordan Silhouettes? “As a little girl, I copped all the J’s. I love the 1’s, like I got on right now. I love the 13’s. I walked in with the Bugs Bunny 8’s.”

courtesy of Jordan Brand | Akilah Townsend

Lastly, I had the pleasure of catching up with IB Majekodunmi, an exemplary community builder in Chicago. We began discussing how her entity Refinecltv, has elevated voices beyond tragedy, before and after these moments die down as trending topics and hashtags. I was interested to know what it meant to IB since its ‘conception and where she saw it going next. “It was a passion project, and for me, I’m a community builder at my core. It started off as a directory, but now it is a means to connect people, not just consumers to businesses, but also businesses to each other. People want community, but it’s hard to find, especially from our day-to-day lives. Fostering true genuine long-lasting community.”

IB contains so many innovative ideas and insights, I asked if she saw her career transitioning to spaces that served her own purpose alongside the community. She agreed excitedly, as she explained how she envisioned Refinecltv building a similar large concept market mirroring Renegade Craft Market. But instead, her own would be very community focused that pours right back into the communities that need it. “It’s not just in Wicker Park, but let’s bring that to Bronzeville. My focus is building the platform to be able to do markets like that. I would love to have a physical space for vendors who don’t have a brick and mortar but that is affordable, along with event space welcoming black and brown people, and it’s not easy to find, especially when you talk about location that’s central.”

On an end note, I couldn’t help from asking about her favorite pair of Jordans. “I love a good pair of 1’s. I actually wore my Lucky Greens here. They really feel lucky, but my birthday is St. Patrick’s Day too. They’re my favorite. They were also my first pair, and I got them on my birthday. They carry a sentimental feeling.”

To be able to connect with such driven women makes me love the concept of Banned Day highlighting those willing to change the rules, shift the narrative, and raise the bar. Especially, when it comes to those of us who always believed in writing our own story, no matter what society tried to make us read. Here’s to many more chapters of greatness that await us all.

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