Foot Locker has been in business for 46 years, but it wasn’t until this year of crises that the retailer came to grips with what living true to its purpose — inspiring and empowering youth culture — really looks like.

“The past six months have been passionate, intense and hard. We’ve always recognized the influence of the Black community on our business and on sneakers, but I’m not sure we’d been able to zero in on our purpose voice until now,” global CMO Jed Berger said today at the PRovokeGlobal summit.

In a session moderated and sponsored by BCW, Berger discussed Foot Locker's responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Covid-19, and how those efforts defined and encapsulated the chain’s purpose, which “is to inspire and empower youth culture through our family of brands by fueling a shared passion for self-expression and creating unrivaled experiences at the heart of the sport and sneaker communities.”

Those efforts include committing $200 million over the next five years towards enhancing the lives of employees and customers in the Black community through economic development and education. This includes investing in Black-owned businesses within youth culture and purchasing more products from Black-owned brands. The company also donated $1.5 million in shoes to youths in communities most affected by Covid-19.

Berger, however, said the company’s support of the Black community – which he says is inextricably linked to sneaker culture – needs to be furthered to the point where Black-owned businesses can truly partner with the retailer in getting their businesses off the ground.

One of the ways the athletic shoe chain is trying to make gains on that is through Project Greenhouse, an incubator program launched last year that grew out of Foot Locker’s need to connect with younger consumers. Greenhouse supports and collaborates with designers and creators that appeal to youth.

“Our global reach is huge, so we launched Greenhouse to be closer to culture and to bring smaller brands along. It allows us to be more purpose-driven, and to learn,” Berger said.

Last month, all of Foot Locker’s 2,000-plus US stores were turned into voter registration centers, which grew out of the company coming to terms with its larger purpose is, and where acting on that fits in today’ divisive environment.

“It took time to move away from the idea that politics and purpose are the same thing. Just because we are saying Black lives matter or we’re taking a stance doesn’t mean we’re picking a political side. Voting is not political,” Berger said. “Politics and purpose are different."