Nike's New Campaign Showcases Some Pretty Inspiring People (& No, They're Not Celebs)

The word "hero" gets thrown around a lot. This week alone, we've seen it used to describe the ass-kicking protagonist in a new action flick, a courier that delivered a colleague's quinoa bowl in 10 minutes flat, and an Instagram influencer's super-hydrating face serum. Don't get us wrong — all of the above definitely deserve major praise. But hero status? Let's reserve that title for real-life role models. As in, people using their strengths to inspire others and ignite change in the world. Take, for instance, the stars of Nike's latest campaign.
To celebrate the launch of the new Air Force 1 (a sneaker that's just as synonymous with resilience as it is with style), the brand tapped a diverse group of forward-thinkers doing incredible things in their local communities to spread good vibes, empower those around them, and bring people together. Below, get to know three of these unsung heroes — Bronx native Saraciea Fennell, Chicagoan Isaiah Sosho, and Chaniel Smiley, a born-and-bred Angeleno — and find out what the Nike-clad trio had to say about giving back and shaping future generations when the women over at Girlgaze (who also shot the campaign) sat down with them. Prepare yourself: There's inspiration aplenty.
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Photo by Heather Hazzan for Girlgaze
Saraciea, a book publicist by day, is the powerhouse behind the Bronx Book Festival, which she started to promote literacy and foster a love of reading among children, teens, and adults in her community.
Representation = Rewards
"The two things that are most important to me are diversity and literacy. I think it’s important for people to see representation in publishing, and I think it’s important for my community to see themselves in books and to know that they can work in the industry — that they can write books, that they can be illustrators, that they can make money this way."
The Power Of Positive Affirmations
"It just takes one person to smile at me and say, 'Thank you Saraciea, when’s the next event?' Or someone from the publishing world to say, 'I don’t know anything about the Bronx, but you make it seem like a place I need to go — a place I need to send authors.' And I’m like, Yes! It’s a forgotten borough, but it’s a beautiful place in my eyes. When I get that feedback, it just lifts me up and tells me to keep going because people are noticing — even though it is a struggle sometimes."
Get Out Of Your Own Way
"I think a lot of people want to make a difference and give back in some way, but they always think they won’t make an impact. That’s not true. You need to get out of your own way; you need to just do the thing and never say no. Just say yes. It is in your power. If you are looking for a place to start, reach out to people who are already doing the work, ask how you can support them, and find your own way through that."
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Photo by Thalia Gochez for Girlgaze
Chaniel is the first female commissioner of the Drew League, a basketball league formed by her father in 1973, aimed at helping the youth of South Central L.A. defy the stereotypes surrounding their community through basketball and mentorship programs.
Hashtag Goals
"I'm doing whatever I can to inspire and empower the youth — and women in particular. That's my goal here at the Drew League: to be a force in the community and give back. What I do feels effortless because I enjoy it and I love to see my community win. South Central and Watts have been depicted in a negative light: gangs, violence, drugs, poverty. But I know for a fact that there are great people who live here and work relentlessly to make their community better. I happen to be one of them."
Dream World
"I’m truly thankful and blessed to be named an unsung hero — and grateful to have this opportunity. As a female commissioner for a male adult league here in the inner city, so many young women look up to me. I just want to be that voice in the community, to make sure that they follow their dreams and do whatever it is that they want to do."
Her Father's Legacy
"What inspires me is my family — my father, in particular, who pretty much handed the torch to me, making this opportunity possible. My father, my mother, my son, my brother, this community, Watts and South Central L.A.... It all inspires me to keep going forward."
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Photo by Kava Gorna for Girlgaze
Isaiah is an artist, choreographer, and the leader of The Future Kingz, a cult-followed dance troupe that first reached the masses on reality television and which is now inspiring the Chicago community with performances and classes for children and teens.
Paying It Forward
"When it comes to The Future Kingz, our main goal is to inspire the kid who feels invisible, who feels like all the good that he or she is doing is not going to be rewarded. When we go into these schools or teach free classes, we do it just hoping to inspire and positively influence the youth to put good things into their community and out into the universe. I want to see a change."
Chase Happiness
"The advice I'd give to someone that wants to make a positive impact in their community would be to find what you love or what you have a knack for and put energy into that. Whatever makes you happy, go after it relentlessly, and don't spend too much time on a plan for it; just do. Just go, go, go, and do. Good things always come out of that."
All For One
"I would say that 'all for one' really embodies what we do, because we try our very best to represent the kid in the basement — as in, the one person that feels like their voice isn't being heard. At one point, that was me. That was everybody in The Future Kingz. But we overcame obstacles and fought the negative voices by doing good things, giving back, giving others a voice, and standing for something."
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