When Goldsboro High School math teacher Kyree Bethel gave a pair of shoes to senior Justin Barnes Tuesday, neither expected the response the kind act would garner from across the nation.
Bethel, a lifelong basketball player with an extensive collection of Jordan-brand sneakers, spends time in the gym at GHS, playing ball with students.
A shared love of the game brought him together with Barnes.
"I was in the gym, since I played basketball a lot, and the kids looked at me like 'Well, you're a math teacher, you can't play basketball.'" he said.
When Barnes walked on to the court one day, Bethel said he had a similar train of thought.
"That's actually how I first met him. I was in the gym playing with our kids, and he came in and the kids were like 'He can dunk,'" Bethel said. "I was like 'no way,' but then he went and dunked."
Ever since then Barnes, who has special needs, began coming by Bethel's class every morning and every afternoon before he left school. The two quickly grew close, and Bethel soon got permission to take Barnes to the gym during his planning period on Fridays to shoot hoops. From shooting around to watching Barnes dunk and just hanging out in Bethel's class during the planning periods, the two formed a bond between teacher and student based not only on a shared hobby but also genuine affection and respect.
From that bond, Bethel began to notice a trend. When Barnes would visit him in the morning, the other kids in class would often be discussing their shoes, with nice shoes like Air Jordans being a point of pride among them. When Barnes confided in Bethel that he wanted a pair of Jordans, it did not take long for Bethel to help out.
"Justin said he'd never had a pair of Jordans, and I told him that, since I was fortunate enough to have a lot, that I'd give him my favorite pair. The ones he has on his feet right now, I gave him from my collection so he could have his first pair," Bethel said.
Bethel gave Barnes the shoes on Tuesday. Barnes walked around the table and exclaimed "Jordans" before raising two fingers into the air in a peace sign and smiling at those gathered in the room. His reaction was captured on video and posted to the school's Twitter page where it went viral, with over 20,000 views by Thursday evening. Barnes' reaction even caught the attention of the Jordan brand's official Twitter account, which replied to the video with a single sentence -- "Geared up for greatness."
Bethel said he never thought his act of kindness would end up as widely recognized as it did. That said, it made him happy to see the response.
"It's a big accomplishment, I feel great about it," Bethel said.
Barnes was grateful for the unexpected gift. He feels the same way about Bethel as his teacher does toward him.
"He's awesome, he's super nice," Barnes said with a smile.
Barnes will graduate later this year. He said he plans to work, doing whatever God gives him to do. Asked if he and Bethel intend to stay in touch after Barnes leaves GHS, both men nodded in tandem.
"Of course, this is my guy," Bethel said, clasping hands with Barnes.
"I love this kid to death."