Michael Franti took the idea of walking a mile in somebody’s shoes and turned it on its head.

Franti — musician, poet and social activist — decided he wanted to try to connect and relate to people less privileged than himself. And he’d do it by walking a mile in their footsteps, barefoot.

At first, he decided to walk barefoot for a few days. But that was 10 years ago, and he’s still walking.

He does occasionally don a pare of flip-flops to board an airplane, which he’ll do to get to Portland to kick off the State Theatre’s new Concerts on the Waterfront at Ocean Gateway on Sunday with his band, Spearhead.

But most of the time, he’s barefoot, a way of walking the walk of social activism. And he also talks the talk.

Franti spends much of his time working on and speaking out about social causes. He recently traveled to an event in Atlanta, where financial and insurance executives from around the world were gathered, to talk to them about the charity Soles4Souls, which provides — you can probably guess — shoes for people in developing countries who can’t afford them.

And just before that, he was playing concerts in Haiti for many people who were shoeless.

“I think it’s important for people to respond to crises, but it’s also important and a matter of international security to support nations where people live in incredible poverty,” said Franti last week, speaking from Atlanta. “Haiti is so helpless, I can’t imagine what it will be like in five years if something major doesn’t change.”

But Franti, 45, doesn’t simply use his status as a musician to try get his messages across. He feels that part of his duty as a musician is to bring music to the people who need shoes — or housing, or jobs.

They need hope, he says, and music can help with that.

Franti was adopted and grew up in a biracial home in Oakland, Calif. He says his interest in social justice was planted in him before his musical interest really took root.

“My mom was fierce. I grew up in this black and white family, and she insisted that we treat everyone the same in the family and that we have compassion for people who are left out,” Franti said.

As one of five siblings in an athletic family, Franti was drawn to sports, but “wasn’t very coordinated.” So as a way to stand out and express himself, he turned to acting and music in school.

For the past 15 years or so, Franti has been fronting Spearhead, which blends hip hop with funk, reggae, jazz, folk and rock. The band has charted records in the U.S. and the U.K., and several of its songs have been used in films and on television (including “Good Burger,” “Weeds” and “The Wire”). When President Obama was inaugurated, Franti played three of the Washington, D.C., parties.

“What I feel like I can do as a musician is just keep people’s spirits up,” said Franti. “I know for me, music keeps me dreaming of the possibility that the future can be brighter.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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