A new pair of Air Jordans might gobble up most of a week's pay from their mommas' pocketbooks, if this was one of the weeks they were working, so eventually Freeman and Eskridge found ways to pay for shoes on their own. They hung around the gas station, pumping gas in hopes of a tip. They carried bags for customers at the nearby Winn-Dixie, pocketing loose change for their efforts. They would visit Coach Luke -- former member of the rap group 2 Live Crew and neighborhood mentor Luther Campbell -- and clean his pool or mow his lawn for a few bucks.
Eskridge is nearly six inches taller than Freeman, but when they would scrape together enough for a shopping trip, they were careful to buy clothes and shoes that fit them both. They had different classes, so no one noticed when they would swap sneakers or T-shirts, doubling their wardrobe to keep a clean look on a tight budget.
After school, they would join pickup football games in an open field at the Miami housing project where they lived. They played in socks, bare feet or an old set of cleats to keep their shoes from getting scuffed. In a place where violence was around every corner, few things in Freeman and Eskridge's lives were so devoutly protected as those sneakers.
"Don't step on our shoes," Freeman said. "We didn't play about that."
Freeman and Eskridge shared shoes, meals and, for several years, a bedroom. They also shared a dream and the struggle to make it a reality. They pushed each other to work when drugs and gangs offered simpler options. They protected each other when their neighborhood felt more like a war zone than a home. They made promises to each other to escape their surroundings and rescue their families from poverty.
Growing up, they had almost nothing, but they had each other. In their neighborhood, that made them rich.
"How we carry ourselves, we always kept each other up," Freeman said. "We were going to make sure our shoes were clean, our clothes ironed. A lot of people think we weren't going through stuff. But they don't know half of it."
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