Running To Protest | How New York City’s Run Crews Came Together Against Racial Injustice

By Chris Chavez

June 15, 2020

On Sunday, June 14th, hundreds of New York City runners gathered at the East River Amphitheatre for a two-mile protest run against racial injustice and police brutality in America. The run was organized by Coffey – who was recently a guest on our show and has emerged as one of the city’s most vocal activists in the fight against racism. He called on all New York City runners to come together and run together as one community. He initially expected 40 to 60 people to show up but there were hundreds.

This just served as further proof that everyone in the running community will take the time to run together, protest together, listen together and make change together.

runners of nyc running to protest

runners of nyc running to protest

After the run, there was a speaker series with crew leaders sharing personal stories of their encounters with racism, what it means to be Black in America and how you can help make a change.

Coffey granted us permission to share the audio from the conversation, which you can listen to here.

We have transcribed some of the comments that were shared by each speaker. Photos were shared by Steven Rojas and Adrian Umpierrez. If you’re viewing this on your phone or iPad, turn it horizontally for the best viewing and reading experience.

coffey running to protest nyc run crews

“My wife called me to let me know what my six-year-old was saying. She had to repeat it. She said she was afraid of being Black. She didn’t want to go outside anymore because she thought she was about to get killed. Kids will pay attention to every single thing that’s going on. You can’t sugarcoat these things…I’m glad to see you guys here and it means a lot to me to see that you guys actually are about to create change and that you’re serious about it this time around. It’s been happening before all of us were born. We didn’t start it. We didn’t create it but we can finish this shit altogether.” – Coffey | @thatcoffeyboy (3:44)

nyc parks commissioner mitchell silver running to protest nyc run crews

“In two weeks, I’m going to be 60 years old. I have two sons and I have six grandchildren. Four will be Black men. Both of my sons have been victims of racial profiling. One of them didn’t handle it too well. As a father, what breaks me up is I could not be there to protect them or be there to help them through that. It’s a damage that they’re carrying with them for the rest of their life. This runs deep. The only crime that they committed was that they were Black and they were stopped. Again and again and again. It gets to you. My oldest grandson just graduated high school. I march and walk so that this has to stop. Enough is enough. Black lives matter. I’ll keep walking until we get justice – racial justice and social justice.” – New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver | @mitchell_silver (17:50 mark)

cheryl donald running to protest nyc run crews

cheryl donald running to protest nyc run crews

“When I walk into a room, nobody knows my history. Nobody knows my pedigree. I’m not given the benefit of the doubt. Looking at me, you would never know that I head the New York office of one of the largest federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I am responsible for securing health care for uninsured citizens of New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Looking at me, you would never know I own a mental health practice – a business that supports the needs of individuals and families throughout Brooklyn and New York City. Looking at me, you would never know my father is a retired two-star general and that I am a tax-paying homeowner with multiple degrees. I have to work hard to get the benefit of the doubt with every new interaction, to fight off the microaggressions that I may be too difficult or have an attitude, be mean, lazy, combative. And as all my sisters know, angry. If I don’t have the benefit of demonstrating my worth, I have the very real possibility of becoming the next Breonna Taylor, the next Sandra Bland or the next Shayla Martin…As we continue the dialogue today I challenge you all to check your assumptions about who black women are and reflect on every micro- and macro- aggression you displayed towards us that furthered the social narrative that our black womanhood doesn’t deserve respect and that our black lives don’t matter. Because they matter. Every day I matter. Every day WE matter. Black Lives Matter.” – Cheryl Donald of Brooklyn Track Club | @blackpearlruns (23:56 mark)

dao yi chow running to protest nyc run crews

“If running has taught us anything, it has taught us to stay active. We have the notion of active recovery where you keep moving no matter how much you just ran, no matter how long you just ran, no matter how fast you just ran – you keep moving. You don’t stop. Once you stop, you lose progress. You keep moving. Once you stop, you get complacent. Complacency only breeds stagnation. It only reinforces the status quo and the last thing we need is to stop and accept the status quo. The last thing we need is to think, ‘Let’s just move slowly.’ We are witnessing history right now. We are in historical times. But if you don’t catch the moment right now, you’re never going to get the moment to catch it again. Understand that in 50 years when they look at this time, they can say, ‘Some real change happened during this time.’ That’s only if you stay active.” – Dao-Yi Chow of Old Man Run Club | @alldaydaoyi (32:54 mark)

mike saes running to protest nyc run crews

“The next step is to make it cool to vote. I don’t know if you know what running was like in 2003 or 2004 but it was not cool. It was joggers in the park. We made running cool. I think we need to make voting cool. I think we need to do registration runs. We need to run people to the polls. We need to do voter block parties and celebrate the act of voting. That’s really where it is…We should focus on getting people to vote for everything.” – Mike Saes of Bridge Runners | @mikesaes (43:40 mark)

“I hope that we are continuing to evolve what urban running means and what it should be. The very act of running together is a radical movement. Us being here today and moving our bodies together is the beginning of a radical movement…As a running coach, I’ll use the metaphor of the marathon. For those of you who have had the opportunity and privilege of training for a marathon, you don’t just show up to the marathon. You have to show up every single day. You put the work in to get there. Once that marathon is over, what do you usually do? You sign up for another one. Think about it like this. It could feel exhausting and overwhelming but the reality is that it’s small steps every day. I hope to be running for my whole life. I’m sure Mike Saes will be running for his whole life. I hope all of you look at running as something you want in your life forever and not just on the bucket list.” Jessie Zapo of Girls Run NYC | @jessiezapo (47:48 mark)

hector espinal running to protest nyc running crews

“While watching the George Floyd video, what resonated with me the most was when he cried out for his mother. When I was 16, I had my first encounter with the 33rd precinct. I was learning how to drive at the time. My father would make me wait for him downstairs and he would teach me how to park the car. My dad got out of work at 4 o’clock. He worked up the block at the hospital. By 4:08, he would be in front of the building. That day, I waited for my dad with a Malta. All of my Latinos and my Caribbean people know what I’m talking about. There’s no alcohol in that whatsoever. The way my dad and I would drink it, we would add some condensed milk and some ice. So I waited for my dad with two styrofoam cups in front of my building. The car was on and I was really excited to move the car. By 4:25, my dad and I were in handcuffs because the cops thought we were drinking open container. The first thing I did was yell out to my mom. That really hit close to home. The person that was supposed to protect me – my dad – and I were in handcuffs in front of my building for no fucking reason. We weren’t doing anything bad and I was scared…When WRU Crew first started running, we didn’t really look like runners. Josh and I didn’t want to mess with the NYPD. We wanted to do things our way and get the community moving. We thought by running, we weren’t doing anything wrong. That first year, we got stopped and frisked so many times.” Hector Espinal of We Run Uptown | @hecisdead (56:36 mark)

julissa tejada running to protest nyc run crews

“I remember when I was 19 years old, I was in my bed and my brothers were in the next room. I lived in housing. All I knew is that I had a bunch of cops in my face dragging me out of my bed. I have a mentally disabled brother and so he didn’t really understand what was going on. My youngest brother’s skin is really dark so he’s always been profiled, unfortunately. They pulled us out of our rooms and throw my brothers on the floor. My brother doesn’t understand what’s happening because he has a mental disability but the cops are not asking questions. They did not knock. They destroyed everything. I had to beg them not to touch my brother because I was afraid they were going to shoot him. This shit has been happening for years and years and it continues to happen. This is our chance. This has to end now…At that moment, I had to beg them and explain to them what was happening and my brother’s mental disability. Guess what? They had the wrong apartment. Of course, they did. They just assumed because of my brother’s dark skin that it was him and not my next-door neighbor that is white. It’s happening every single day but now it’s being recorded. Julissa Tejada of Wilpower Fitness | @mrs._wilpower_ (1:01:09 mark)

jason fulford eric garner cousin nyc run crews running to protest

“Let’s go back to 1994. Nicholas Hayward Jr. was a 13-year-old friend of mine who was murdered by a police officer because he was playing in his stairwell with a toy gun. Like Coffey, when I was 13, I understood what a Black life was worth. I understood that I was already being viewed as a threat. What else was my friend Nicholas supposed to do? He was lives in the projects, he was just playing with his friends in a staircase because that’s the only space they had available and he had to die and lose his life that day. 1994. These are the stories that we do not know…When all of this ends, let’s keep this momentum going. If we do not, it is the same thing that we have been doing for years. You know what happened six years ago after my cousin was murdered? The momentum was there but two police officers got killed, unfortunately. May they rest in peace. But the momentum shifted to blue lives matter. It’s not about that. Black lives need to matter before all lives matter – before blue lives matter. Because they’re protected. When I walk out my door every day, I’m not protected. I want everybody to feel that. I am Nicholas Hayward Jr. That could have been me in that staircase that day. That is me.” Jason Fulford of The Running Edge (Also the cousin of Eric Garner) | @jayfuf15 (1:05:59 mark)

steve finley brooklyn track club running to protest nyc run crews

“How am I going to say I love this community. How am I going to use the word “love” when I haven’t been there to take responsibility for the lives and experiences of our athletes outside of practices and outside of the runs. Love doesn’t begin and end when your watch starts and stops. Love is about taking responsibility for the experiences and interactions and the communities and neighborhoods that we come from. More than anything, love is about taking responsibility for making sure we all get home at night safely to their families, neighborhoods and homes. The fact of the matter is that some of our groups don’t have that luxury. It’s not a guarantee that they’re going to make it home without getting harassed by the police, arrested or god forbid worse than that. Black lives matter…I can do better. We all must do better.” Steve Finley of Brooklyn Track Club | @steve__finley (1:14:21 mark)

nova church running to protest nyc run crews

“Don’t beg for anyone’s help. There’s enough of us out there. There are millions and millions of people right now around the world protesting in solidarity. They’re yelling George Floyd’s name in London. They’re yelling his name in New Zealand. They’re yelling Breonna Taylor’s name all over the world right now. This is the biggest the movement has ever been. A lot of comparisons have been made for this movement to the marathon or training for a marathon. When Nipsey Hussle passed and everyone was hashtagging ‘The Marathon Continues’ – I was like I’ve been trying to tell y’all that. But it does because we know. We’re out here and we’re training. We don’t wanna get up early. We want to eat that cheeseburger. We know we have to be resilient. We get up early. Hit those streets. Build with your team. Use the other people’s energy to boost your energy so we can keep moving forward. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve been training for the marathon since 1940. So today, the marathon really does continue. And after this marathon, we recover and we come back out again and again.” – Nova Church of Bronx Sole | @nova.church (1:19:11 mark)

power malu running to protest nyc run crews

“We are the leaders we have been waiting for…Right now, the difference is that our souls are screaming loud and they’re saying, ‘This is wrong. You can’t stand for this any longer.’ Our souls are our intuition. That intuition is our guide that we have ignored for so long because of the distractions purposefully put in our path…What we have to do is support one another with information so that we can continue to fight on all different angles and we can truly put an end to this systemic racism and this white supremacy.” – Power Malu of Bridge Runners | @powermalu (1:28:00 mark)

As noted by Coffey, there will be more runs and conversations like this to come.

Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.