As a former high school teacher in a minority neighborhood and as a teacher of English at Howard University, I have been so struck by your article, "Athletic Shoes: Beyond Big Business" {front page, March 10} that I feel compelled to express my views on this issue.

Having profited enormously from endorsements by such admired figures in the black community as Michael "Air" Jordan, Spike Lee and John Thompson, athletic shoe companies have left these people with the responsibility for publicly repudiating drugs in the wake of some brands' tainted associations with the drug culture. No one has as yet gauged the effectiveness of such repudiations, nor has anyone seriously questioned the ethics of companies that reap disproportionate profits from trendy athletic shoes in impoverished neighborhoods, where drug dealing may be the major economic activity.

Nike's response to pressure from the black community has been a promise to appoint a black vice president and black member to its board of directors by 1992. This bespeaks the old tokenism, mere window dressing. If these companies really want to be taken seriously, they can do a number of things for the minority community and at the same time hold on to their profits.

They can establish factories in minority neighborhoods, with management-training programs for minority youths. They can transfer some of the money they pay their endorsers to scholarships in business-related subjects for minority youths, with the added incentive of future employment if recipients graduate with a specified grade point average.

These suggestions will not end the drug problem overnight, but they could save some of our children from a life of exploitation and futile materialism -- or worse. They may also save society the future cost of incarcerating some who, for want of opportunity, turn to crime. And they may quell some of the minority community's uneasiness about the motives of major athletic wear companies. Fortunately, the days are over when minority people can be placated by the token parade of highly visible, well-paid few, whether they are on television or in the board rooms of corporate America.