Debora Taylor and PRJCT Run
Mid Strike Magazine Feature by Jesse Specs Spellman
PRJCT-RUN – The city, the people and its connection. Gray city, city colored by graffiti. Streets, corners and slopes. None of this prevents us from knowing every detail of this city and doing what we love the most: the street race! Running without time, without haste, as day-to-day running is what unites this city and people.
This is the city of Sao Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest, loaded with a diverse culture, population, and most of all one of the most vibrant influential run crews in the southern hemisphere known as PRJCT Run – founded by Débora Taylor and Ton Hamilton. This month instead of crossing the pond Mid Strike Magazine is heading south to chat with Débora Taylor as we discuss PRJCT run, the run culture, why PRJCT run was created and most of all balancing life and running.
MSM: When we launched Mid Strike Magazine about five months ago there was a shortlist of runners and run crews that we felt were super influential when it came to representing the true culture of the city. You Débora Taylor were on the shortlist. For our readers, give us a bit of insight into PRJCT Run and what led to you creating this run club. It’s essentially an international movement, right? Did you ever think it would grow this large so fast?
Débora: I had no idea that the group was going to grow that fast, to be recognized elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I see that the group has much more strength outside the country than here in Brazil.
MSM: The city of Sao Paulo seems like it runs through your veins which seems to show through your running. Give our readers some insight into what or why there’s so much passion that comes out while running.
Débora: I love this city as I was born here, but it was only when I started running that I really started to get to know it more deeply. Through the squares, parks, ups and downs. The city has its beauty but not everything is flowers. As with every city in the world, Sau Paolo has its spots where it’s dangerous.
MSM: Proper presentation is something that is a constant fight for us here and in the states, in the run community, as there’s a “mold” of what every runner should look like: slim, white and fast. Most races here draw those types of runners but mostly take place in their communities and not places we come from. We have a few races that may spend a very small portion in the neighborhoods we are from but most of the run community doesn’t represent us, the diverse community. Do you find that these same issues exist in São Paulo?
“I look in the mirror and I try to be my own inspiration! I need to be strong to keep up this fight for my children. I do it for them because I don’t want them to go through what I went through. Even though it’s difficult to admit racism exists. But I try to keep going even when I don’t have the strength. Our fight is for survival so I live one day at a time”.
Débora: Absolutely. Here, running even on the street, was a sport for those with money and that is mostly white people. When I saw social networks and fitness magazines I didn’t see myself in them. Always the same white people with sculptural bodies, with a rich diet ruled with almond milk, with brown almond granola. GPS shoes and watches here in Brazil are very expensive. The Brazilians from the peripheries need to fight to have rice and beans on their plate.
MSM: What has Covid life been in the city of São Paulo, and how has this impacted you, as well as the run community?
Débora: It was very complicated here, I don’t have the money to buy a bike or a treadmill to train at home. I spent 5 months without training which for me was terrible…not knowing what would happen to people not only here in Brazil but around the world. Without a job, I had an anxiety crisis for days and I had insomnia but little by little I started running again, adapting to this new life of wearing masks. Many people were also returning little by little but this is a life-changing pandemic and is the routine of many people. Here, those who were poor became even poorer. Women suffered from anxiety attacks that were worse than mine. Today I see that I am able to help these women through this sport and it shows that they are not lost. But I also need to keep myself safe.
MSM: Piggybacking off the last question, pre-Covid and even further back, were there times during official races where you felt you were on an island as a runner?
Débora: I didn’t feel that way, because we have a lot of Black corridors here but they are not shown as they have no visibility by the media. The media shows only what is beautiful to them. The rich whites. This here in Brazil is what sells!
MSM: For these past couple of months what’s been helping you stay consistent?
Débora: My family! My children and my husband. Seeing this pandemic and seeing that they are well, it comforts me a little but I really missed my running routine. It ended up making me sick, a few bad nights and even insomnia. I gained a little weight when the anxiety came and I attacked food: sweets, bread, and pasta (LOL).
MSM: For our readers, myself included, give us some insight into the run culture of Sao Paulo as it’s a city that seems to always be buzzing. What is the race culture like when it comes to the norms such as 5ks, 10ks , half marathons and marathons?
Débora: This city does not stop. I love São Paulo. We have a lot of street racing here. We have several racing groups, unfortunately, our group is the only Black group. But I hope to change this scenario. There are not many races for Blacks here, we are still a minority and I hope to change this scenario also. If I can get 5% of black people to understand what we go through I’m already happy. I use running as a protest, to show that yes we from the periphery must also take care of our physical and mental health. Street racing is the cheapest sport that exists as everyone can practice. I need to show that even though I am a mother of three children, a Black woman living in the periphery, that I do exist and I am changing the lives of many women like me through running. I don’t know how far I take do this, I only have so much to offer. But I know that I am at heart with my project. I want to shout to the world that we are here !!! I am a BLACK woman and I am helping many others to discover themselves.
MSM: What was running like for you prior to starting PRJCT Run? Also, what was your why? What drew you into running and the community?
Débora: It was very individual. I always try to do my best, always looking for my best time as I only thought about time and pace. I fought with myself to be my own inspiration but eventually, I started to think differently, that if running saved me from depression I could help other people.
I somehow wanted to convey the same feeling I had when I ran my first 5K. But I preferred to help my people. Raising a “Black” flag here is fighting against a racist society. In order for me not to be totally militant in their eyes, I use the race/running as protest. But that isn’t even half of what really needs to be done to help and show what we are able to do through the sport of running.
MSM: We touched on the run culture in Sao Paulo but we also see that you had the opportunity to run one of the best marathons in the world, in our home city, the New York City Marathon. What was that experience like for you? NYCM is literally a party through all five boroughs.
Débora: Wow, this question makes me cry here because everything that happened in that city came to mind. I hope to be there very soon, but also it was my first marathon. I cannot describe what I felt that day as it was the most important test of my life! First marathon and be welcomed by the folks of New York City. My God!!!! It was a magical moment for me and of such giant importance. I went to represent my friends who never had the opportunity to run this race, let alone visit NYC because our reality is quite different, not everyone has the financial means to travel internationally. They are almost different worlds and this medal here has a very heavy weight! I ran for me, for my children, and for my friends and I ran to show people who doubted my ability, as a peripheral Black woman! I showed that I am capable and this medal has sentimental value. People here tried to end my project but I am much stronger than them.
MSM: Do you see yourself going the six star journey route setting your sights on Berlin, London, Tokyo, Chicago and Boston?
Débora: I’m not that ambitious! But I want to do Chicago and I’d like to do London too.
MSM: Tell us about some of your PRJCT Run teammates. The team from what we’ve seen seems pretty close, as you all push each other to be great, while striving to bring out the best in each other.
Débora: I am the founder and creator of PRJCT Run. Currently, there are two who run the group but we always run together with friends who want to send the same message as us. We run for love and give with our hearts to encourage more people but always with the same purpose to spread visibility to Black people and always put Black people to the forefront.
MSM: For our readers, what are some of your favorite places to run in the city of Sao Paulo. I’m sure we’ll have a few that want to make the trip, myself included, and will be looking for places to run.
Débora: Ibiraquera Park, Vila Lobos Park, Paulista Avenue. Elevated (minhocão) are very famous places to run here in São Paulo but if you want to go out at night to have fun there is Vila Madalena.
MSM: I saw one of your Instagram run photos where you mentioned “We rotated the historical points of Sampa. Every corner is a story about slavery”. We’re all aware that most of the world would not be what it is today without Africa as our ancestors were taken and dispersed throughout the world. Brazil itself was built on the backs of African slaves. As a runner do you find yourself educating fellow runners on the history and culture of our slavery?
Débora: Exactly. Brazil is Brazil because of Africa. After Africa, Brazil is the country where there are the most Blacks but there is still this veiled racism. As a runner, I try to show them our culture. I don’t run in parks, São Paulo is big and very beautiful. I love graffiti, we run listening to hip-hop, samba, and funk as this is at my root and what I grew up listening to and watching. We run through the city center where there is a lot of history in these streets, places where my ancestors walked. I bring with me, my nagô braids, my religion, my skin tattooed with my name given to me by my Black parents and grandparents. My smile, my energy, my gratitude for having another day to show what our people have to offer. We were neither generated nor created to hate others. More because they hate us?
MSM: In the States, we Black folks are constantly fighting for equality which honestly is something that never existed for us here. Police violence against us is constant here. It’s strikingly similar to the country of Brazil. We do various runs here which brings attention to these issues shedding constant light on what we are fighting for. Do you find this is the same in Sao Paulo?
Débora: Here it is even more violent as we are constant targets. We are followed in the markets, in the malls, as there is always a security guard over us thinking we are going to steal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do these races here as there are a lot of people that still say that racism doesn’t exist here. Those words hurt me. Here who raises this flag in protest loses support or sponsorship of some brand because they know that racism exists but they don’t support it. Speaking of, racism here doesn’t sell, and the police come out on top. I try to do something more but very little still don’t see it. For 2021 I want to be able to raise this cause more against racism through running.
MSM: We are all in support of BLACK LOVE, your husband Ton is also into fitness. Was this something that drew both of you together?
Débora: Awwww 🙏🏿 BLACK LOVE! He was a basketball player and I was always sedentary. I found myself accidentally in a race which is where I saved myself from depression. He started running and it helped bring us together a little more. We are the parents of three children and have a very busy life. When we started running together, our routine changed a lot. We were closer together, we talked a lot and now we are even more closer.
MSM: What’s your inspiration, your source of power when you need it?
Débora: I look in the mirror and I try to be my own inspiration! I need to be strong to keep this fight for my children. I do it for them because I don’t want them to go through what I went through. Even though it’s difficult to admit racism exists. But I try to keep going even when I don’t have the strength. Our fight is for survival so I live one day at a time.
MSM: What’s on the horizon for Débora and PRJCT Run?
Débora: Honestly, I don’t know, as this pandemic changed all my plans. I am living one day at a time. I want to fulfill my dream of doing another marathon and focus more on PRJCT Run/Grls. I want to get the message out to convey what I really want to pass on to people fighting racism through running.
- I want equality.
- I want respect.
- I want women taking care of themselves with high self-esteem.
- I want to be able to represent peripheral BLACK WOMEN.
Through this sport where I brought you to you. If it weren’t for the race, you would never know who this Débora Regina Gonçalves is. (Deborah Taylor)
MSM: Thank you so much for allowing us to feature you, any last words you’d like to share for our readers?
Débora: I’m so happy to be able to share some of my life with the race community and that somehow I’m part of this street culture here in São Paulo, NYC, and some other places in this world. Because our fight is the same. Against racism. Gratidao. Thank you very much indeed. I’m thrilled here. Even more so as this month of January and my birthday. Thank you for the gift.