Q & A: Chima Onwuka talks shoes, therapy, public speaking, and giving back in Memphis

When Chima Onwuka graduated Memphis University School and headed off to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee, he wanted to play football and pursue a degree in medicine. 

“When I first got to college I was following someone else’s dream,” said Onwuka. “It was in my organic chemistry course that I knew I wanted to change tracks and become a master level counselor.”

He’ll graduate soon, but in the meantime, he’s developed a business that allows him to merge his love of shoes, public speaking, and helping others. 

Onwuka purchased Grind City Kicks in 2019. The online sneaker and apparel store collaborates with organizations and other businesses to impact the community in positive ways. 

“Buying Grind City Kicks has to be one of the best decisions I have ever made,” Onwuka said. “It has allowed me many opportunities to be in rooms with some of the top executives and business people in Memphis.”
Grind City Kicks and Grind City Cares partnered with Couture Cares and Building Blocks Mentoring Program to provide Christmas gifts in December 2020 to a family of 11, which they're delivering here. (photo courtesy of Chima Onwuka)
 Grind City Cares is the nonprofit arm of Grind City Kicks. It provides outreach and support to those in need. Onwuka launched it after he discovered how many children in Memphis lack access to basic resources. It was founded in March 2020, just before the pandemic began forcing shutdowns across the city, and Onwuka knew there would be many families in need. 

“I knew from being in retail that the easiest way for people to show support is by buying and wearing a t-shirt,” said Onwuka. “So with the help of Grind City Kicks we created a COVID-19 awareness shirt that said “Stay Safe” on the front and we introduced this campaign during Giving Tuesday Now.” 
 
Grind City Cares donated half of the proceeds to people directly affected by COVID-19 and the other half to Neighborhood Christian Center, which was providing aid to those affected by the pandemic. 
 
“GCC is fairly new and I have many plans of how it can help provide resources and impact not just in Memphis but also around the world,” said Onwuka.
 
High Ground News sat down with Onwuka to talk about his life and work as a counselor, public speaker, and entrepreneur. 

What is Grind City Kicks all about? 
Grind City Kicks started because I had an interest in shoes. Then I realized how shoes can really impact people all over the world. From only wanting to resell shoes to now using shoes to bring awareness to social issues across the globe, is mind blowing. 
 
How have you used this platform for good?
We started giving shoes away every month to kids that were excelling in school or in the community. Then we started giving shoes to families that lost loved ones, especially kids, to tragic deaths. From there we started to use our platform in forming partnerships in the sports world, using teams and players to give back to the community, while at the same time providing them with high quality apparel. 
 
Why were you drawn to public speaking? 
I knew that many people were not willingly going to see a counselor or therapist
so I had to find a different way to influence them.
 
Why do you feel public speaking is so important? 
It’s a way to reach a broad, diverse group of people and influence them in a positive way. [Beginning to speak publicly] was a significant phase in my life because I was extremely nervous and had so much anxiety when it came to public speaking. My heart started beating fast, my hands became sweaty. It felt like I was having a panic attack at first, but I knew it was bigger than me and I needed to do it. 
 
How does it inform your work?
You never know what might happen. Many people continue to encourage me to go out there and inspire others, both young and old. I always tell myself, 'I have to leave them something that they will never forget and make them feel way better than they did when they came,' by the words that I speak and the energy that I project.

Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters. 
 
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