POCOMOKE CITY, Md. — Taren Nance was ready to part with some of the shoes in his large collection of mostly retro Air Jordan sneakers.
But the 27-year-old Pocomoke City resident didn’t want to give them to just anyone.
So, to receive shoes from Nance, high school students had to answer the question “What does Christmas mean to you?” in a 250-word essay and have a GPA of at least 2.5. They also had to be a shoe size of 12 or 13.
Last month, Nance distributed 18 pairs of shoes in wrapped boxes to the six high school students who wrote the essay — five Pocomoke High School students and one student from Salisbury, a relative.
Nance, who was dismissed from two colleges because of his grades, is now in his final semester at Wor-Wic Community College and has a 3.72 GPA. He is the Middle States Regional President for Phi Theta Kappa and served as the 2011-2012 keynote speaker for the Student Advocacy Day for community colleges.
“I failed twice and still bounced back, and I’m better than ever,” Nance said. “So I want to make sure that our youth, especially African-American males, are taking advantage of the chances and opportunities that we have, but we’re just not, so I’m trying my best as a one-man army to empower everybody that I come across to want to try to do more and do better and give back to the community and stop taking away from it.”
An act of kindness like Nance’s shoe giveaway isn’t exactly common.
Da’Quan Collick, a 17-year-old senior at Pocomoke High School who received three pairs of shoes from Nance, said he was thankful someone cared enough to bring him shoes.
“You don’t have people like that to just willingly give things away like that,” Collick said.
Now, he wants to give back in a similar way.
“I’m thinking about doing the same thing, but I don’t know what I’m going to give yet,” Collick said.
He said Nance reminded him of what his late grandmother had told him about being grateful for what he has. Collick also said God is telling him to give more — and that God won’t give to him if he is not giving.
Pocomoke High senior Tyler Bivens, 17, received three pairs of shoes from Nance and said getting into the mindset of giving can increase someone’s self esteem.
“When somebody blesses you, I think that gives you the commission to go out and bless somebody else,” Bivens said.
That was something Nance said he hoped students would get out of this experience: That it wasn’t just about receiving shoes, but about the students going on to give back in some way.
Nance began collecting shoes at age 14, when he started working, with his prime collecting time being between the ages of 17 and 20. He recalled going to shoe stores at 5 a.m. when a new pair was being released and cleaning his shoes every Sunday.
After giving away the shoes, he estimated he still has about 30 pairs left.
“My mind’s blown,” said Andre’ G. Collins, 14, a freshman at Pocomoke High who received five pairs of shoes from Nance.
Collick, Bivens and Collins also said Nance read them meaningful cards.
“I didn’t really show any emotion when he was there, but after he left, I admit I kind of cried to myself about that,” Collins said.
Nance’s daughters, ages 4 and 1, inspired him to work harder and get to where he is today. He now plans to become a middle school math teacher and also aspires to become a congressman.
He’s looking to give back more in the community, recently signing up as a volunteer for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program in Wicomico County and naming other things he would like to get involved with.
“African-American men, we have to step up,” Nance said. “We have to show our youth that it’s more than just the street, the violence and the corruption. It’s so much more than that to life.”