Notre Dame women's shoes, shirts to make social justice statement

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — As Kamika Perry fashioned the shoes that would become the physical representation of a Notre Dame women’s basketball project calling for social justice, her efforts became almost a metaphor for fighting injustice.

After all, there was a sense of urgency for the South Bend artist, because the project carried deadlines, but also a need for unwavering patience, because the transformation of the shoes came about painstakingly slow.

She even started out with something that was all white, and had to explore the best ways to integrate black.

“There was definitely trial and error,” Perry said of applying the right kind and right amount of coating to the leather and cloth shoes that would allow them to hold up and allow for the partially individualized designs to be hand-painted on.

The end result, though, has triggered a deliriously happy response among the Irish, who will wear the shoes, along with warm-up T-shirts designed by Perry, for Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised home game against No. 6 Louisville.

“We’re extremely grateful for her and all the hard work she’s put in,” ND senior center Mikki Vaughn said of Perry after Thursday’s win over Florida State. “The shoes look amazing, the shirts look amazing. We all love them, and we’re sure everyone else is gonna love them, too.”

“I think she did a phenomenal job of kind of making a vision for the message we wanted to amplify through the voices of our players,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “The fact she could hand-paint our shoes … pretty spectacular.”

Perry was initially contacted by Notre Dame regarding the project about two months ago, but only received the shoes about three weeks ago.

She spent roughly 10 hours on each of the 17 pairs she turned over to the program, and that does not include the overnight drying time that was necessitated between the multiple coats of black.

On the outside of each right shoe is a design that Perry created after conferring with Ivey and the players over what they wanted to convey.

It merges a fist with an anatomical heart.

“A common symbol for social justice has always been the power fist, but what about hope, unity, love, BLM?” Perry said, mentioning some of the player-chosen words and phrases that are featured on the left shoes. “The heart symbol then came to mind, and I thought, what if the hand is the fist that beats the heart?”

Each player picked her own word or phrase for the left shoe, that word nestling above an image depicting a crowd at a protest march.

“Love” was chosen four times, followed by “unity” three times, with some of the once-apiece selections including “relinquish” and “do more.”

“I ask you to do more,” junior guard Abby Prohaska said in a video explaining her choice. “Protesting is not for everyone, but do not stay silent.”

“I chose relinquish because I think in order for change to come about, people have to be able to give up their positions and change the way they think,” Vaughn said. “... I think that if everyone’s going to be able to relinquish a piece of how they’re thinking or be able to see something from someone else’s point of view, we’ll be way better off.”

The warm-up shirts feature a young girl in a Notre Dame jersey looking off into the distance with optimism and wonderment in her eyes. She’s wearing hair ties that mimic the lines on a basketball.

“The generation that benefits the most from the actions we take in the present are the ones that come after us,” said Perry, who has two young sons. “The ‘hopeful young girl’ was another of the concepts presented to the team and coaches. … She gazes toward the future with a hopeful look, aspiring one day to be a student at this great university.”

Perry, 33, was born in Jamaica. She and her family moved to Elkhart when she was about 10 years old, and she’s been in South Bend for over 10 years. She is a graduate of IUSB and a founding partner of Eyedea Studio, where her husband, Tavarus, is also involved.

While Perry says she’s owned boundless confidence in her abilities since childhood, she adds that not everyone gets an opportunity as “pivotal” as she believes the ND project will be for her.

As Notre Dame’s marketing team explored the project — inspired last fall, according to associate director of athletic communications Josh Bates, by downtown murals addressing the Black Lives Matter movement — Ivey heartily endorsed finding a local artist as opposed to an established national firm.

“She said that it was very important to her to have been able to use the position she’s in to raise someone else up the way she was raised up,” Perry recalled. “This project meant more to her because of what it did for me, and I just wish I could have jumped through the screen and hugged her for that.”

While this latest effort by ND women’s basketball to address social injustice may be more symbolic than something like pursuing legislation or organizing a community march — the Irish have done that as well — members of the team see every effort as helpful.

“I feel like a lot of people are just not quite sure exactly how to tackle and just talk about social justice issues,” Vaughn said, “and I think just kind of breaking the barrier immediately with something like our shirts, you can ask us about it and that’s a good way to get a conversation going. I think that’s the best way to educate, to be able to talk to other people and learn that way. … A lot of people have already asked us about it, so it’s doing what it’s supposed to.”

“We are given this platform to help make the world a better place,” Ivey said. “I think sports is a way to do that. There’s a lot of people looking up to us.”

For this program, this kind of speaking out is nothing new.

In 2014, following the lead of professional teams that wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in New York, the Irish were recognized as the nation’s first women’s college basketball program to put on the shirts.

“I was really proud of our team to publicly stand up for something you believe in,” then-Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said at the time after giving her blessing to the players’ request.

“(It was) at a time where it really wasn’t acceptable for athletes to stand up and use their voice and platform,” said Ivey, an Irish assistant in 2014. “That was the one moment where we took a stand and knew there would be backlash.”

There’s been some since as well, particularly last mid-December when just over half the team’s players chose to kneel during the national anthem before a home game.

The individuals who remained standing placed their hands on the shoulders of those kneeling as a show of support.

The players distributed a message stating that they were kneeling “in protest of the systemic racism, police brutality and continuous racial injustice towards Black Americans that permeates” U.S. society, not as a show of disrespect to “the flag or those who have served.”

“We love, respect and support the decision of all members of our program to kneel or stand during the national anthem,” the message read. “We ask you to do the same.”

Some of the players have steadfastly continued with the practice of kneeling since then.

On Sunday, individuals will exercise their respective choices while wearing shoes that further address the cause.

Perry, while admittedly not a huge sports fan historically, will be in attendance, and says she’ll probably have feelings that “words can’t describe.”

Given the way those shoes, as well as the shirts, turned out, Ivey sees just one problem — the original plan to wear them only for this one game.

“You know what, I’m not sure,” Ivey said of whether that remains the plan heading into the single-elimination portion of the season. “I would love for us to probably wear them in the ACC Tournament and wear them as much as we can. … We definitely want to wear them more, so hopefully we have more games to wear them.”

The first/heart image, designed by South Bend artist Kamika Perry, that will featured on Notre Dame’s shoes against Louisville Sunday afternoon.
Perry

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 6 Louisville (20-2, 13-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (10-8, 8-6).

WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: WQLQ (99.9 FM).

NOTING: This rematch of the Cardinals’ 71-65 home win three weeks ago could be pivotal for both teams in the ACC standings. Louisville (13-2) can wrap up the regular-season title with a victory, but would give up the crown to North Carolina State (11-2) with a loss and a Wolfpack win Sunday at Syracuse. … The Irish (8-6) can still finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the 15-team league (13 teams are active this season). With a win over Louisville and a loss by Syracuse (9-6), ND places fourth and gets the last double bye in next week’s ACC Tourney at Greensboro, N.C. If both the Irish and Syracuse win, Notre Dame winds up fifth. If ND loses, it’ll finish anywhere from fifth to seventh depending on how Florida State (8-7) and Virginia Tech (8-7) fare in their home games Sunday against Wake Forest (8-9) and North Carolina (7-9), respectively. … The Irish stayed within striking distance most of the way three weeks ago at then-No. 1 Louisville, closing to 66-65 at 1:41 remaining on a Dara Mabrey 3-pointer, then having a chance to go ahead on a short jumper at 1:17 by freshman Maddy Westbeld off her open-court steal. She missed and senior Dana Evans answered with a triple for the Cards. … Evans, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, finished with 27 points and five assists. Kianna Smith added 16 points and five steals, and Elizabeth Balogun 12 points and three blocks. … For ND, Westbeld, Sam Brunelle, Mikki Vaughn and Olivia Miles each scored 10 points. Brunelle added nine boards and five assists, while Westbeld and Vaughn grabbed eight rebounds apiece. … On the season, Westbeld is averaging 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds, Destinee Walker 12.1 points, Mabrey 11.5 and Anaya Peoples 9.4 for the Irish. … Louisville pace setters are Evans (20.8 ppg, 4.3 assists), Smith (11.8 ppg) and the freshman duo of Olivia Cochran (11.2 ppg) and Hailey Van Lith (11.0). … The Cardinals are trying to secure their second straight ACC regular-season outright title. They also shared the top spot with Notre Dame in both 2019 and 2018, after the Irish captured four consecutive outright championships from 2014 to 2017.

QUOTING: “We gained a lot of confidence that game. It was a measuring stick for us to see where we are, and I felt we really came out to fight. I feel like that game kind of shows our strengths and weaknesses. We know what we need to fix.” — Niele Ivey, Notre Dame coach, on the last meeting with Louisville.