May 12, 2020
“My grandfather told us from the jump, ‘Don’t ever let color separate you from anything. Don’t the color of green get you into any kind of trouble with another color but always accept another color besides your color and because we can all be a family together. Don’t worry about whoever it is that hates your color. You were born this color for a reason and wear it with pride.’ That’s what I’ve been doing since that day. I’m not afraid to speak my mind because I’m black. I just pay attention to my surroundings at all times at 110% level.”
To start, we address the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man in Georgia who was fatally gunned down by two white men while jogging near his home. Arbery was killed on Feb. 23. A legal argument from a district attorney, who later recused himself from the case, follows and says that no one should be arrested. However, after the 36-second video footage of the shooting is made public, outrage follows and the two men are eventually arrested. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.
Harlem Run founder Alison Desir (who was a guest on this podcast) expressed her frustration with the lack of coverage by the sports and running media. Following her Instagram post, coverage ramped up and Arbery’s face was posted everywhere. Desir wrote the following essay for Outside Magazine.
This is an issue that is certainly important and underscores that we could all do better about having and acting on these conversations.
Our guest for this episode is Coffey. He is a father, husband, filmmaker, Nike running pacer and the founder of Define New York Run Club. This conversation was on our schedule before the Arbery shooting but we take the first half of our talk to address the story, its impact on him and how he relates to the likes of Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. We go back to his roots in North Carolina, how he got his start in fashion and filmmaking, why he got hooked on group running and then ultimately starting his own group.
You may have seen him on recent episodes of ‘For Life’ but his big project has been the short film “About the People” which hosts a very powerful and honest conversation about social justice and inequalities by black and brown men at the hands of police brutality. Coffey was one of the writers on the film and drew some inspiration from the conversations he’s had to have with his oldest son on police brutality.
This is Runners of NYC. A podcast from CITIUS MAG. Hosts Leigh Anne Sharek and Chris Chavez look to bring you many of the untold stories behind luminaries and legends that make up New York City’s running culture. You can catch the latest episode of the podcast on iTunes so subscribe and leave a five-star review. We are also on Spotify!
From our conversation with Coffey…
- “I remember it happening in February. I’m an activist and as soon as I hear these types of names and what’s going on, I’m there for it, to listen and see what else is actually going on. It’s been happening for so long. I really don’t know if it’s going to stop in my lifetime. I can’t see it happening. I can’t see it happening any time soon. Look, I’m from the country. I’m from the backwoods of North Carolina and this is the honest to God truth – when I run in Aurora, I get my sister to drive behind me so those things like that don’t happen. Racism is obviously everywhere but in the South, it’s still as heavy as it’s always been and we don’t tend to focus on that. At the same time, I focus on that. I wrote a film about that. It was because of those things. There’s a lot of fear of a color and that color is black. I would never understand that. The pandemic is actually happening but before this took place, I was still getting stares and being looked at because I’m a black person running. I know that for a fact. I get looked at differently from any other person out there. I’m a black man so in their mind, I’m scary. I’m six feet so in their mind, I’m too big. I come with a beard or a ‘fro or whatever and that’s scary. Now all of a sudden, I have to cover my face? So imagine me covering my face with a bandana and me running now. It’s unfortunate that happened and it continues to happen.”
- “I just don’t think it’s going to stop. Did I cry today? Yeah. I cry when it happens all the time. There’s nothing wrong with shedding tears. I shed tears because every day that I walk outside the house I have to make sure that I make it back the exact same way that I did before. I’m basically reliving my life every single day. It’s all because I’m black. Not only that, I have four black kids I have to think about. Whenever it’s not just me, but whenever we all go outside the house, within my mind I have to sit back and think about it to an extra degree than the regular person that America supposedly belongs to.”
- “My grandfather told us from the jump, ‘Don’t ever let color separate you from anything. Don’t the color of green get you into any kind of trouble with another color. But, always accept another color besides your color and because we can all be a family together. Don’t worry about whoever it is that hates your color. You were born this color for a reason and wear it with pride.’ That’s what I’ve been doing since that day. I’m not afraid to speak my mind because I’m black. I just pay attention to my surroundings at all times at 110% level.”
- “Here’s the thing: If we retaliate, what happens? Then, we look like we are in the wrong. But why do we look like we’re in the wrong? Because we’re Black. There’s already a persona out there that anything that a black person does is crooked. But, if you took another color and did the exact same thing, it’s rewarded and looked upon in a different way. The minute that I find out that anybody is black – I already know that they’re going to add an extra layer to try to make it look like it was meant to happen the way that it happened. That’s why he or she is dead. But, that’s not the case. 90% of the time, that’s not why. We’re still trying to find out more about Sandra Bland. We all know what happened to Sandra Bland but all of a sudden there’s no footage. We all know what took place with Michael Brown. We all know what took place with Trayvon Martin and regardless of the fact that we still have the footage, we still have to fight to try to get the right thing happening to these people.”
- “The footage of Ahmaud says it all. You see what happened. The guys are still out and about doing whatever it is that they do because this guy used to be a cop…Because he’s a white man, he gets away with it. If the shoe was on the opposite foot, if that was a white kid and that was a black man that did that, oh they would already be in jail or executed. Black people are the nicest people. We don’t carry ourselves like that. We get looked upon like that. With that said, being black is already a strike against us. That’s the craziest thing that I’ve ever said aloud but it’s the truth. You have to provide truth to where the matter is at. I have to let my kids know that. My oldest son is 21. I have to let him know that. My daughter is nine. I can’t tell my daughter that yet. She’s immune to it a little bit but just a little bit. As she gets older, it kills me on the inside that one day, I have to have that conversation with them. It’s not just me. Every black American family out there has to have those conversations. That’s where it bothers me the most.”
- “I’ve been black every day of my life. I’ve been accustomed to this since elementary school, high school and junior high in North Carolina. Where I’m from, it’s a racist town. It’s a small town but it’s a racist town. If black and white persons dated each other (which maybe I saw twice), it led to major fights in high school. It led to derogatory comments. In high school, because a black guy was dating a white girl, someone went and at night time painted the word “Nigger” in broad letters across the school. That caused a lot of chaos. We’re talking about the 90s. I know exactly how they feel. When it happens, I feel like we all relate it. Even when it doesn’t happen, I feel like we all relate it. Every black person that I see in New York, whether I know that person or not, I speak to them. It’s either a head nod, a what’s up or how are you doing depending on who it is. That’s just to let them know, ‘I see you. We’re the same color. We’re in this fight together.’ There’s no wrong in speaking to whoever. What I notice is that a lot of people in New York don’t speak to one another. They look at each other as strangers. Where I’m from, being that it’s small, everybody spoke. Everybody waved. To some people who aren’t from small towns, they might not understand that. What I grew up understanding was that it breeds good energy. It’s OK to say hello, what’s up or hi to whoever. Here, to my own kind, I make sure that I speak to them. Regardless if I know them or not, if something happens to them, I’m hurt. I’m hurt because that could’ve been me. That could’ve been my kids. That could’ve been my brother. That could’ve been my best friend. That could have been anybody of color that’s related. Nobody of another color can tell me – you guys can understand it but you won’t know it until you’re in our shoes. It’s not like you can take back the hands of time and be born a different color. Some people wish that but that can never happen.”
- “As people, we just need to keep the conversation alive. It’s up to the individuals to actually take it up on that task and actually do that but it’s more than just a conversation that needs to be had. We actually have to do the work. Doing the work is basically getting those white supremacists out of here. That’s pretty much it. If you want to continue to have the conversation, you have to be willing to do it and not let once two weeks go by all of a sudden everything is OK and we’re back to being normal until it happens again. That’s not the way it is with me. For me, it’s an everyday struggle.”
- “My family let Emmitt Till be known as soon as we could say our ABC’s. Although we didn’t really know who Emmitt Till was because of our age, they didn’t stop teaching us who he was. Once we became of age to understand, ‘Oh! So this lady lied on Emmitt Till? He was in the South but he lived in Chicago. They went and took him out of his uncle’s house, killed him and got away with it? And they were paid to talk about it years later because of the way the laws work? So we know who killed him and got away with it?’ OK. So what just happened now is the same thing. The beginning of it. They lynched him a different way. Are they going to get away with him? They shouldn’t get away with it. No. We have to make sure through conversation that we are willing to continue conversing about it without lying to ourselves or looking for a like on Instagram. I didn’t post that on Instagram for a like. I could give a shit about a like, especially when things like this happen…Whoever is following me, I want to bring awareness to this as well. You can unfollow me. That just lets me know who you are as an individual…Do it because you meant it. Do it because you have some type of answer that you want to be answered. Not a question. An answer. You can keep having questions about it but you’re not going to get that answer that you’re looking for. Let’s be the answer, continue talking about it and doing something about it as well.”
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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.