University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


Nonprofit Organization Uses Urban Sneaker Culture To Engage, Inspire, and Empower Minority Students

Shyimel Brown


Sneakers for Success, which was started as a small educational organization in 2011 by alumnus Samuel del Pilar II while he was a student in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, is now an official 501c3 nonprofit organization holding educational and inspirational programs in Providence, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Boston.

Sneakers for Success uses sneaker culture and design to engage, inspire, and empower under-represented students to achieve academic success. The organizational services include workshops, curriculum development, and content creation that focus on critical problem-solving skills. The use of sneakers as a catalyst for education keeps the students get engaged and connected to the standard classroom material, as well as exposing them to ways they can transform their passion into anything. See video

Why sneakers? Easy. As one ninth-grader from Brooklyn explained, “Some people don’t get it, they [sneakers] are all I do.”

That passion, well-known to del Pilar while growing up in the New York City metroplex, inspired his own efforts to found Sneakers for Success as an educational force that uses the sneaker culture to hook young students on all the skills required to design their own sneakers. Beyond that, the fledgling young designers can then employ all their new skills to succeed in higher education in general and take off on a career glide path of their own choice.

Del Pilar said that “Sneakers have always been a critical part of my childhood, and now, being in the industry, I see all the opportunities available for our youth today.”

According to Del Pilar, Sneakers for Success conducted a recent project with Reebok that “was an integral step to the growth of our organization and impact in our communities.”

In celebration of the Reebok Ventilator’s 25th anniversary, Sneakers for Success held a six-week program at Roxbury’s Community Academy (sponsored by PressPassTV and Edvestors), a high school in the Boston Public School system, where students could design their own Ventilators for a chance to have them sold on

“We gave them an opportunity to design their own shoes and, in the process, learn the steps from inspiration to marketing,” del Pilar said.

Afterwards, Reebok sat down with student winner Shyimel Brown to hear more about what this experience meant to him and how it feels to have his original design on sale to the public. See the full experience in the video narrated from the student winner here. Reebok also interviewed the winning student on the company blog here.

On camera, the winning student said, “My name is Shyimel Brown, and I’m 17 years old. I was born in Boston and raised in Brooklyn. I’ve loved shoes all of my life. My dad has pictures and videos of me as a little kid just taking my shoes on and off, always placing them down in the corner nice and neat because I didn’t want anything to happen to them.”  

Proceeds of the shoe sales will also help Brown through his freshman year at college, and del Pilar is trying to help with his education by plugging Brown’s sneakers: “Please note with every purchase profits will go toward the student's first year of college.” Purchase the shoe

Sneakers for Success also gives students from low-income, minority areas workshops in science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts (STEAM) by teaching them everything from the biomechanics of the human body to photography to sketching principles.

As the organization’s website explained the philosophy behind its programs, “The majority of students fall behind in classes that fall under the STEM fields for various reasons like short attention span, lack of resources, or simply the challenge.”

In response to this widespread issue, Del Pilar hit upon the concept of engaging, inspiring, and empowering these students through the sneakers that literally form the foundation, sole, and under-footing of their culture. (October 2015)