When did you realize you were a Bootblack?
Zahir I worked the stands side by side with Brooklyn on the first day of SPLF, before the arrival of the other Bootblacks. We worked together for about 8 hours that day, and I got to put my hands on my first pair of Chippewa boots.
What does being a Bootblack mean to you?
Zahir For me, bootblacking has always been about community; service; and above all else, love. Not just the love of working on leather, but also of our community, and our leather families. Also, I can honestly say it is one of the first ways that I ever found that someone can actually scene themselves. I have never stepped away from a stand without being highly aroused and feeling as though I just finished a rough body scene.
Please tell us about your title.
Zahir I am the current Route 66 Bootblack. Being a titleholder has been wonderful, and in some ways intimidating. The amount of talent and strength of character shown by previous titleholders – not only at the national level but also at the international and regional levels – is a lot to live up to. All the titleholders share the feeling of a supportive family, and I have learned a mindblowing amount about myself.
Please tell us about your Bootblack journey.
Zahir My Mommy literally handed me to my mentor Brooklyn, saying, “I have someone for you to meet; she is going to teach you how to be a Bootblack. Do everything she says.” This journey, marked by times I’ve had to step away and come back, has not been smooth. I cried for fear I would never be good enough until I began to ignore all of the self doubt and really believe those who were proud of my work and my accomplishments. Being counted and included among the brotherhood of Bootblacks has become its own amazing achievement that has given me heart, joy, and a singular sense of belonging.
What’s been a memorable experience you’ve had as a Bootblack?
Zahir One of my absolute favorite memories occurred after working on an elder Leatherman’s boots in KC. As we swapped stories, he reminisced about how Leather has changed through the years. He laughed about the idea of “Old Guard Leather” and the veneration of his generation, while he just saw himself as a dirty old man. When we were done, this venerated older gentleman stepped off my stand, dancing and giggling at how shiny his boots were. Just thinking about his giggles always brings a smile to my face.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a Bootblack?
Zahir DO IT!! Don’t wait for someone to say you can! If being a bootblack is what you want to do, then do it. Even if all you want to do is your own leathers, then do it!