We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Momoye Sugiman’s answer.
Back in the summer of 2011, Katherine contacted me about her proposal for a women’s memoir writing workshop focusing on shoes as a launching point. What an exciting concept! When she asked me to recommend students for the first cohort, I knew exactly which women to approach. As an ESL teacher, I recognized the writing potential of countless students, many of whom were fairly quiet in class but expressed themselves with raw emotion and lucidity in their personal writing.
I was thrilled when Katherine invited me to sit in on the meetings at the Bata Shoe Museum. For the first four years, I attended them regularly. I remember wishing that I were an immigrant woman so that I could workshop my own unfinished stories in the warm intimacy of those Thursday evening sessions. The atmosphere of camaraderie and empathy that developed among the participants was exhilarating and inspiring. It was the kind of atmosphere that I used to cultivate in my ESL classroom before the emphasis on benchmarks and assessments—and before technology became an obsession. Over the years, it became harder to provide my students with opportunities to develop their creativity and bond with each other. Given my frustration with the growing bureaucracy of the education system, it was inevitable that I would be drawn to The Shoe Project.
Over this past decade, I’ve had a variety of roles—from secretary and recruiter to copy editor and ESL coach. I’ve also introduced Katherine to some wonderful women: Mariana of Brazil, Irena of Poland, Filiz of Turkey, Sayara of Afghanistan, Jie of China, Lianny of Cuba, Sheida of Iran—and various others. Having known these women when they were still struggling to establish themselves here, I can see how the Shoe Project experience has been profoundly transformative. I’ve been enthralled by the powerful narratives of all the participants.
I am happy that this valuable initiative is still thriving despite the COVID cloud. We need The Shoe Project now more than ever. I cherish my association with it. Thank you, Katherine!