by Bart Skorupa, Co-Founder & Innovation Director
When I was a kid, our family emigrated from Halinow, Poland to Champaign, Illinois.
The summers here are hot and sticky where hangouts at the public pool provide the only shades of relief.
And today, I'm standing on the bridge with my gray BMX bike that has no logos, no markings.
It’s just gray. My father bought it for me at garage sale in our new neighborhood.
But back to the bridge.
The problem with this bridge at this moment in time is that my socks are black.
It’s hot and it’s summer and here I am riding a bike in shorts, wearing sneakers adorned with black socks.
Remember Champaign, remember Illinois.
This is middle America and people do not wear socks with colors outside of omnipresent white. My mother does not know this while we shop at the discount chain store of Zayre, she rolls here eyes at omnipresent white and buys black, buys blue.
This splash of color on my feet, the markings of being an "Other" in a homogenous community, is about to get me in trouble. It starts with the snickers, continues with the pointing, and eventually I am surrounded. Boys with lots of time on their hands, lots of testosterone in their veins.
Black socks are different and it’s a good enough reason to start a fight as any.
This is the first memory I have of someone standing up for me.
It’s the first time I learn that I need to observe how people act, how they dress. In the brain of a twelve year old, it means survival.
The boys circle their bikes around me like adolescent wagons. The pushing starts and I am knocked off my bike. The bigger one lifts my bike upwards and holds it in a triumphant "V". He walks to the side of the bridge and mocks heaving motions of throwing it over the 15 foot precipice to the creek below. I start to cry and the other bigger one named Shawn grabs my bike back.
The heat eventually keeps the moods in check, it’s just too hot to keep up anger.
Everyone gets on their bikes.
“Want to come over and play Blades of Steel?” Shawn asks.
His house is right behind the bridge and we all go over to his air conditioned sanctuary to force pixelated hockey players to beat the shit out of each other. “Watch me make his head bleed Sko-rooo-pa!”
These are now my summers in the MidWest, me doing my best to just fit in over endless time-loops of Nintendo, sports, white socks, and Faygo cola.
I'd like to say that back then, I realized that being different isn't a bad thing. It means that I'm brave enough to be myself. But that's not what happened.
I tried to become "normal" and fit in. I wore white socks and demanded my parents, who were struggling to make ends meet given the huge cost of our move would buy me B.U.M Equipment, Karl Kani, and Martine Francois Girbaud jeans.
You know, things that would make me fit in.
As I got older, I realized it's the things that set us apart that make us stronger.
As Jodi Foster said:
Normal is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from.