Left to right: Lennie and Lonnie Smith
OKEMOS, MI -- The Black Lives Matter movement inspired twin brothers to do more than just be black teenage athletes, the movement inspired them to speak up, stand up, and give back.
Lennie and Lonnie Smith, 16-year-old twin football and basketball players at Haslett High School in Haslett Michigan watched along with the world as George Floyd screamed for his mother and also said he can’t breathe, while a white officer kneeled on his neck. They watched as emotions ran through them from anger, fear to confusion. Like so many of us in the African American community who just can't seem to understand this systematic, symbolic, racism, and hatred that has plagued our people for over a hundred years. Lennie who stands at 6’5 and can appear older than his age wanted to do something, so he joined several Black Lives Matter protests throughout the community. He told his mom he had to do it, he said he knows the risk and he understands people may want to hurt him because of the color of his skin but he felt it was his duty (even at such a young age) to stand up for what he believed in.
Lonnie the younger twin by 19 minutes was more withdrawn than his older brother but he too felt the need to protest. They cried behind such a senseless act, that in their lifetime they probably did not know they would witness on live television. They cried for a man they didn’t know and would never meet, a human being, someone's son, brother, nephew, father, and friend.
As days flew into weeks and the news changed from the peaceful protest to Covid-19 ravaging the African American community, to politics, the twins tried to move on with their young lives and focus on just being teenagers. With their football and basketball seasons hanging in the balance, it was a constant challenge (according to their mother) to keep them focused on better days ahead.
It’s a hot July day and a few weeks away from the twins turning 16, on July 16th. Finally, eligible to drive, Lonnie was looking forward to getting his driver's license. He told his mom he wanted to get a job to buy himself a car. Indicating he wanted a BMW like the one his godfather Carlton Guthrie had. Lonnie spent a few days this past summer with Carlton, a Harvard alumni and the CEO of several companies, one of which employs over 100 African Americans in the heart of Detroit.
Lonnie’s mother, Nadia Sellers, the CEO of a permanent staffing agency and several small companies, explained to him the difference between his millionaire godfather and his young-self, reality hit him hard. She told him he would have to work a lot of hours to afford his desired car. Further, she told Lonnie instead of getting a BMW he should focus on building wealth. He hung his head and asked her how he would do that. She said, “son, you need to start your own business, and that way you wouldn't have to worry about anyone not hiring you because of the color of your skin”. Something she has seen happen many times during her 20 plus years in business.
Lonnie’s face lit up, as she asked him what he was good at? Without hesitation, he stated, “selling shoes” for years he had been selling shoes and that most of the kids are flipping shoes. “Ok, open up a shoe store and sell shoes” but you need to do the research first, she explained. Lennie being the financial wizard out of the two and the saver in the family chimed in and said mom we make money from flipping shoes. This came as a surprise to their mother because she was the one buying the shoes they were now flipping.
Mom Sellers scheduled a meeting with her twin teens to help them plan and launch their new store, the “House of Soles” retail, resale, and consignment Nike and Adidas shoe and apparel store located in Okemos, Michigan, opening in October 2020. The plans are to sell new and used tennis shoes pending approval from Nike and Adidas to become a retail customer. They love their Nike’s and Yeezy’s and for now, want to focus on those brands. Lennie who wears a size 17 shoe knows how hard it is to find shoes in his size. He is determined to attract the attention of other athletes with the same problem so they can become “House of Soles” resale customers.
Lonnie the CEO, and Lennie the CFO, convinced their sister to help them create an LLC which they will control 100% when they turn 18. After finding and renting a retail space, together the family began cleaning out the building, painting, and designing the feel of the store. According to their mom, some days were harder than others. Instead of painting and cleaning the store they wanted to hang out with their friends. Lonnie and Lennie had to learn how to prioritize their time and their mom made sure they did just that.
The twins are looking forward to this new business venture in their young lives, attending Haslett High School online, practicing football and basketball when it resumes and working in their retail store in the evening and on the weekends. Determined to make their business successful and hire what they call “Sneaker Heads and Shoe Consultants,” the positions they created are to help build future entrepreneurs like themselves. Sneaker Heads and Shoe Consultants can be any age, the only qualification needed is (they must know sneakers”) their vision is to be a role model for individuals who look like them.
Lennie and Lonnie know that to effect change it must start with them. They understand the need for minority businesses and what those businesses can mean to the community they serve. As a seasoned minority business owner-operator, the twins’ mom has taught them the value of hard work, employing their own, and being good citizens.
Lennie told his mom his life matters and that he's proud to be an African American. Lonnie would hire all his friends if he could help them build wealth too. With the help of a friend, they came up with the name “House of Soles” because of their love for Nike and Adidas. They decided to focus on these brands for retail and resell since they own so many of the brand's shoes.
Lennie wanted to sell their brand of clothing and Lonnie agreed it would be best if they designed and produced a House of Soles brand. The twins designed and created the House of Soles brand, logo, and all of its apparel, now available online at houseofsolesus.com and in their store located 1737 West Grand River Ave, Okemos, Michigan 48864.