Movement Runners with Kitwana John
By Jesse Specs Spellman
As we’ve spoken to runners throughout the existence of this magazine one thing we’ve noticed is the process of which change should and can happen. Change comes from the seeds that are planted within our communities and shown through the process of hard work. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an Inglewood-based run club rise up and grow these past few years, a run club called Movement Runners which was founded by fellow run brother Kit John. This month we take a trip back to the west coast to talk with Kit and the growth of Movement Runners run club.
MSM: Welcome to Mid Strike Magazine. For our readers that don’t know much about you give us some insight into Kit John. What was Kit’s journey prior to Movement Runners?
Kit: I was in the military for 6 years; 2 years in the Coast Guard and 4 years in the Army. After the military, I went to nursing school and was in the medical field for over 10 years. While I was in the Coast Guard I was stationed on an 82-foot patrol boat that had had a crew of 12. We all had several jobs to be in charge of because it was a small crew. We all had to learn each other’s jobs just in case something would happen to a crew member. Once you learned a job or trade, you were ready to learn the next.
There was nonstop or studying and learning all the time on new things and new ways to survive as you had to be ready for all types of emergencies. We traveled very often but not too long because it was a small boat so we would need fuel, water, and food. We were stationed in Eureka, California where we would then travel to San Francisco and sometimes all the way down to San Diego by water.
MSM: Was the experience of the military something that had an effect on your fitness journey prior to starting Movement Runners?
Kit: Most definitely! It taught me how to be punctual and ready for any and everything. Most importantly it taught me how to be flexible and have more than just one plan of attack. Sometimes plan A turns into plan x y z. In the military, you’re constantly active and have to be ready for anything at any time. I loved what I did but I always felt like something was missing and thought I could help many more individuals.
MSM: What was this feeling like for you – the feeling of missing something? Was your mind always thinking of ways to fill that missing link?
Kit: I’ve always been active but enjoyed working out more with others than by myself, so I started a small running crew about 6 years ago that consisted of about 30 runners.
MSM: How did you start Movement Runners? What was the process of getting folks together for those early runs?
Kit: Starting my own running crew started from a small idea of asking myself “maybe, I can do this”? I mentioned it to a few friends just to get feedback, one person in part was Claudia Martinez. She said if anyone could pull it off it would be me after which I was then confirmed It was a must that needed to try it. Another friend of mine Jesse Clements actually made a bet with me that I should try it and he would back me up. So I set a date and invited 35-40 people one Sunday, 38 people ended up showing up. We all ran, had a great time and after the run, a few asked when the next run would be? I honestly told them this was just a one-time thing and I said we could try meeting up once every other week. That later turned into every week, then twice a week, and then led to signing up for races and marathons and the rest is history.
MSM: From what I’ve seen from afar something you hold in high regard is giving back to your community. For you, this is very important. Did you grow up in the LA area and was this something you saw where you felt you could be the difference at a young age?
Kit: Yes, I was born in South Central Los Angeles. I would always see my mom helping out the homeless when I was younger and always wondered why she did it. In my teens I saw so many people in need so I decided to carry on her legacy of giving back.
MSM: What were some of the things your mom did early on that stood out to you? How did she work with and help out the homeless? What was it that she mentioned to you that stuck with you to this day regarding giving back to the community?
Kit: My mom would drop extra food off that we had at home before taking me to school she would always drive down skid row and give those extras meals that we had from home. She actually never said much about it but it was all her actions that stood out. I saw what she was doing (at the time I didn’t understand why) but as I got older I realized some people are just less fortunate. So if you are fortunate to give back Do It! It’s that simple. So definitely it was her actions that spoke to me.
MSM: It seems like you’re a very sincere person at heart, a person that loves to give back to the community, help others and speak positively. These are foundations that aren’t built in a day or weeks. This is something that is learned early in life. Who are some of the folks that have helped you build this foundation?
Kit: Claudia Martinez, Jesse Clements, Nancy Navarro, Bryan Starks, Nikki Bell, Chiquita Anderson, and Vanessa Gonzalez to name a few. I could name much more but I would need about 5 pages. It definitely takes a tribe to run a village and it’s not just me alone. Also my mother Ingrid John, she has the most generous heart, always trying to feed everyone. And always encouraging my dreams and my father Bunny John. My friends liked to hang out at my house after school and he would talk to us about life along with things we needed to be mindful of as young Black men.
MSM: Was running for you something that you’ve always included in your lifestyle from an early age?
Kit: Definitely not! Running was the last thing I wanted to do when I was younger, even on the basketball team I disliked running for practice. I played basketball from age 9 all the way up to senior year in high school.
MSM: What made you get into running and then essentially use that as an avenue to spread your message across the community?
Kit: I got into running in my early thirties when a friend invited me out to run when running crews were starting to make their mark in Los Angeles. Then a few of the clubs I went to moved out of the area or stopped meeting and I realized I could do this in my community and help so many get healthy and have fun doing it.
MSM: Prior to you starting to run what was the run crew scene in LA like? As you joined those clubs for your runs early on did you feel your community at times went overlooked which led to you branching out to start your own thing?
Kit: Prior to me starting a run the crew, the scene was very different than what it is now. I honestly didn’t see too many peeps that looked like me running back in the day. When I say like me (African American males). It was more of a female run culture which has definitely changed through the years. These run clubs were and are still about community and I just followed in the footsteps to continue it in my community.
MSM: Physical trainer, runner and I’m also going to say, photographer? It seems you ALWAYS have a camera in hand to capture those special moments on the course or with your clients. I’m a production guy at heart and it’s very hard for me to even want to snap a photo during my run (lol). How do you manage to capture those moments with sometimes two cameras while running?
Kit: It definitely takes practice as I definitely try to capture all the fun we have!
MSM: Take our readers through some of your photography background. What have been some of the special moments that you’ve captured? What are some of your favorite moments you’ve captured as a photographer?
Kit: Honestly, I would not say that I have a photography background but I always liked to capture the special moments in my life. Truthfully, at the end of the day, all we have are memories. My goal is to capture as many memories of everyone around me as long as I am here.
MSM: What went into creating Movement Runners and what are some of the staples and foundations of the run club?
Kit: I would definitely say other running crews had a big effect. I saw what everyone else was doing and kept what I liked and then added my own take. It’s about more than running, we are a family. Yes, we run together, but we also get together for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and check-in on each other. Our motto is “All Races, All Paces”. Everyone is welcome and encouraged, doesn’t matter if you are an experienced runner with multiple marathons under your belt or a novice who has never done a 5K. We got you. I’m proud to say last year we had over 50 runners do the L.A. Marathon and many were first-timers. It was FUN!
MSM: 50 is an impressive number! What was training like for yourself and your crew leading up to the LA marathon? Do you find that each of you have pushed each other physically and mentally?
Kit: Not going to lie, training is not fun! At least not for me! But being out there with these amazing peeps made it all worth it and if you have ever run a marathon you know you must train and recover or you will learn the hard way, TRUST! We actually had way more than 50 probably close to 100 runners running La marathon this time last year. It’s a great and life changing experience. We definitely pushed each other and there’s no way we would have completed this without each other’s push, hard work and dedication.
MSM: Looking at Movement Runners the club seems to reflect the personality of your leadership where crew members overall have a genuine love and need to be there to help others. Be the change that the community needs and support each other. How are you able to convey this message to everyone?
Kit: Basically, it’s as simple as the energy that you give which leads to the energy that you get back.
MSM: Skid Row, for our readers tell us the importance of this. Essentially this is a sneaker donation where runners donated over 200 pairs of sneakers which then are donated to those that are less fortunate. The sneaker drives aren’t the only donations you receive as you’re always giving back to those in the LA community that are experiencing economic hardship. What are some of the other community/volunteer work MR has done to give back?
Kit: We actually do a monthly Skid Row outreach every third Saturday of the month where we give out water, hygiene kits, and socks. The Sneaker drive is definitely a group effort, it’s everyone coming together and bringing shoes they don’t wear anymore that are still in good condition and giving them to someone in need. This year we were blessed to get a donation of shoes from Hoka and Front Runners LA donated some brand new New Balance. We also collect clothes to give out during the Sneaker Drive as well.
MSM: For folks in the LA area how can they be a part of these clothing and sneaker drives if interested?
Kit: Honestly just reach out to me on social media. My house is an open house to drop off and we usually do it once a month (every last Saturday of each month) and it’s as easy as just coming on out and helping out as it usually takes about 45 minutes tops.
MSM: This past year Movement Runners hosted a turkey trot. Was this the first race you’ve planned? Take our readers through some of your experiences as a race director. Is this something you see yourself doing more of in the future especially when we return to some sort of normalcy?
Kit: This was definitely the 1st race I’ve planned and it went way better than I expected just for the simple fact of the help and support from my team. There is no possible way that I could have done this by myself. It’s a lot; planning a route, getting medals made, scheduling volunteers, organizing donations and goodie bags, it definitely takes a village. I’d love to host more races in the future. There is nothing like an in-person race.
MSM: What was the feeling of finishing a race you directed? Take us through some of the successes and struggles of putting together this event. What were some of the things that stuck out the most to you?
Kit: It was definitely a great and emotional feeling that I could put together an event and set up a platform for runners to run, mingle and just simply have a great time without any type of egos or anyone bragging about time but just simply to have fun! The one thing that stood out to me was friendships, new friendships, and old friendships reunited. Most runs in 2020 after the L.A. marathon were canceled so turkey-trot runners got to see other running buddies and make new buddies.
MSM: Transfer of energy is everything especially when it comes to meeting someone for the first time. You never know what the next person is going through. I’m sure with your personality there have been times where the person you’re speaking with comes out the conversation feeling better than they felt 10 minutes ago.
Kit: I get phone calls and text messages throughout the day from acquaintances, runners, and clients about life’s stresses. I try to take the time to listen because you never know what someone is going through and sometimes they just need to talk to someone and get it out of their system. I usually tell them to come out for a run with us. So many people tell me how much that invite helped them get through a tough time or get them back on track with their health goals.
MSM: What’s on the horizon for Movement Runners? Where can folks that are in LA or traveling in find the crew and join in for a run?
Kit: Definitely hosting more in-person running events in our community. This past January on the 24th we hosted a virtual New Year’s Run with a Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K. We run every Tuesday in Playa Vista at 7 pm. We meet-up right in front of Bike Attack. We ask that you please wear a mask.
MSM: Any last words that you would like to share with our readers?
Kit: Train your mind to see the GOOD in everything!