Running To Protest with Coffey.

Running To Protest with Coffey.

By Keron Alleyne photos by Zach Hetrick
Cortney White

Movement. When the word is stated, depending on who you are many images come to mind based on how you relate to the word. Some will think about running, jumping, walking, or any physical activity. Some will think about the ever present movement for social justice that spans several decades and scores. Some will think of the combination of both. Images of the Olympics with John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the podium with black gloved raised fists. Which one came to mind when you heard movement? For our next story, its very clear after the deaths of Amaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor and the flash point of George Floyd – movement was intermingled forever.

Coffey: That’s dope that you mentioned John Carlos because I met him and we spoke for about an hour or so as you see in the photo. And he explained to me how everything came about and what he went through during and afterward. I also told him I would have done the same thing he and Tommie did and I remember him responding with, “young man, I can tell you would have”. Ok, now to your questions. What’s up?

Keron: Coffey, you go by just your last name, but we know there’s a reason – always a reason. Let’s start with an overview. Who is Coffey and why does he just go by his last name?

Coffey: To be honest I’m a man who’s as simple as one, two, three and believes in being honest and loyal to everyone I allow myself to be around or vice versa, be around me. I only go by my last name because my former job as XXL magazine fashion editor, that’s what everyone was calling me once they heard my name. So today if someone was to call me by my first name, it doesn’t register because it’s been decades now that I’ve only heard Coffey.

Keron: Interesting, thanks for sharing. As a guy who’s always been into athletics, how did your basketball pathway lead you down the endless road of 5ks and distance running?

Coffey: I’ve always been one to be in shape all year round because it just felt great to be so. And after playing college ball and moving to New York and being in the industry, I found myself up late nights eating all kinds of fast food. So, I knew something needed to be done and that I needed a replacement since my basketball workouts were over with.  And one day my wife mentioned that she felt running would be great for me and 16 years later I can say that she was exactly right. I’ve literally been hitting the pavement for 16 years before this country became healthy. In other words, when I started running I dropped so much weight that people at my job thought I was sick and were afraid to approach me about it. Then one day, they asked how could they help and I told them I’m ok, and I just run every day and they were so relieved with happiness. Wow! I remember that like yesterday. 

Keron: Fast forward a bit on your run journey. You eventually became a signature Nike pacer for various athletes that would become a new crew of weekend warriors. These folks would show up after work and early on the weekends to be led by you and a crew of pacers to hone their skills for life or a particular race (shout-out project moonshot). Can you tell us more about your role as a pacer and any lessons learned along the way?

Coffey: My role as a pacer was to take it seriously and be as honest with people as I am with myself. I mean there’s no secret why I always had the most people in my group. It was like the saying goes, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. But I never allowed myself to accept the fact that I was considered to be the best pacer. Everyone else including my co-workers (other pacers) were all saying it and I appreciate it. But the task was to train people the correct way for their marathon and do it with love. Because if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re definitely not going to love helping others prepare for the big dance.  And I also operated my crew like I was drill sergeant, with love though.

Keron: Those lessons are invaluable. Once upon a time, I was in your pace group so I can see that developing, but know this – I’m the pacer now (lol). Follow my lead in unpacking the many stories here. As a filmmaker, I know that storytelling is a passion of yours that you infuse with the same fervor of running. How has being a storyteller influenced your running?

Coffey: In all seriousness, my storytelling comes to life while running. When I’m out there doing a solo run and I have an idea in mind, my characters, logline, and dialogue are all created on that run and of course some runs afterward. I know it sounds weird, but it’s always the most fun I have when I’m creating a world that makes me have chill bumps until I write ‘fade to black’ within the screenplay. Storytelling influenced my runs so much that I will end up running 15 to 20 something miles. So, that should let you know the joy I get from it.

Keron: About the people film, is one of your films out now. Why make a film like that?

Coffey: My film is called ‘About the People’. And yes it’s out now at AboutThePeopleFilm.com or if you have youtube, you can just search About The People and watch it. I made that film because a couple of years ago, my oldest son was about to be a senior in high school, yes a senior, I started early. Anyway, he asked for a curfew over the summer and I wouldn’t give him one because I wanted to see what time he felt he should be home by. In my mind, again, he’s about to be a senior, he’s wiser and all he was doing with his friends was playing basketball all day every day at Brooklyn Bridge Park. So, after he asked I noticed he was home at 8 pm the same day. Then the second night, he was home at the same time and I couldn’t understand that because when he was a freshman, sophomore and junior his curfew was 10 pm. And then when he came home the third night at 8 pm again, I told him let’s have a conversation. So, I asked him if anybody was bothering him at the courts and he said no. Then I made a couple of jokes with him and finally, he said “dad, the reason why my friends and I are making sure we’re home by 8 pm is that we don’t want to get killed by the cops.” Do you know how much that bothered me? For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a response for my son because you can’t lie and sugarcoat those types of situations. I couldn’t lie and say “it’s not going to happen to you”. So for a while, I was pissed off and then I went for a run a couple of weeks later and that’s when it hit me to write a film that will answer not only my son’s thoughts but everyone else who’s thinking the exact same thing. And that’s how ‘About the People’ was birth and we premiered it in September 2019 and it has won numerous awards but also had some people who believed that it wasn’t true, until months later when we all witnessed live on television what america, lower case america is really about when it comes to dealing with Black people.

Keron: I see. Let’s shift pace, we’re back in 2020. The news of George Floyd compounds the news of so many others lost to white supremacy in the first phase of the pandemic. Like many Black people, the news of another and the video of another trigger a grief period. How did you process and cope during that time?

Coffey: I mean I wasn’t shocked. This has been happening before any of us were even born. The bottom line is unless you’re Black, no one really knows what we really experience being that color in america. There are similarities, but nothing comes close to what our ancestors have gone through and what we continue witnessing today. And it’s safe to say because the pandemic is why many have taken notice now. Think about it. If the world didn’t shut down, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would have just been another brother we lost to police brutality slid under the rug and in their eyes just one less n*gger to think about. See when you have these types of conversations you have to be real. No sugar coating, no hiding anything regardless of what age your children are. Just know that they need to know. Now. Not yesterday or in 3, 5, 7 years but right now. Because if not, then they will learn it from the internet and then they’re going to be asking you why haven’t you said anything to them about what’s happening in the real world. Trust me, I have kids and they ask questions every day about their color. And you don’t wanna lose their trust or it’s over. I know that’s a lot but it’s the truth and as far as how I processed and cope during that time, well I’m still processing because it’s still happening. I can sit here and name so many more lives that were also lost to white supremacy post Mr. George Floyd, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, Ms. Breonna Taylor, and the rest of the victims that we will continue fighting for and saying their names. As long as I’m here I will continue doing what GOD has planned for me to do and that’s get up, stand up, stand up for your rights, and not just for me and my family but you and yours as well.  

What’s next is that we’re a movement led by runners protesting monthly with dialogue, running and meditation.

Coffey

Keron: I think we all ran to cope. Some physically, some ran mentally, some ran socially etc. etc. but literally, you ran a marathon in the middle of the night to process. Please let us know (if you remember) what were some of your thoughts? If this is a difficult spot we don’t have to delve deep into it, but we want to give you room to process.

Coffey: When I ran that Saturday morning, I had just been chased the night before during a protest that literally crossed the front of my stoop. It bothered me because I knew it was a setup. And once they realized they couldn’t catch me, I stopped because my phone was ringing and a great friend of mine who also lives in the same area as I do said, “hey Coffey be careful out there because they have under covers wearing white wrist bands that’s infiltrating shit”. Once she mentioned that, I thought back and that’s exactly what these two guys were wearing. So, the next morning I went on a run and was thinking about what can I do to help my people but also educate those who don’t know about my people. During that run, I wasn’t even almost thinking about the mileage, but while shedding tears of anger is when Running to Protest was born. And I thought maybe 40 – 60 people will show up, but when I got arrived I realized I was looking at 1,500 people in all white T-shirts just like I asked. It was a day I will never forget because it was the day that started a running movement.  And running to protest is the perfect metaphor right because we actually do run the streets.

Keron: The birth of Running to Protest. Please give us insight into what this group’s goal is and how you feel it can make a difference.

Juneteenth Running to Protest – NYC

Coffey: Running to Protest is a group of runners in New York City who have come together to use our shared love of running to protest social injustice and advocate for the changes we want to see in the world. We are making a difference because we hold monthly running protests to create awareness around specific issues. And you never know who’s watching learning new things to help however they feel they can add their two cents. For example, a couple of months ago, my ten-year-old daughter asked me if she could speak at our next running to protest, so I said yes. I had no clue what she was going to say, I didn’t even ask her, but when she spoke it let me know that she has been paying attention to everything I’m doing. And that’s how I know for a fact what we’re doing is making a change. 

Keron: As a community organizer myself, the chasm between idea and action is sometimes vast, but once the idea is moving it’s amazing. What did it take to get this late-night marathon idea into motion?

Coffey: All it took was for me to put in out there and let the people choose if they’re gonna show up or not. I always tell people when you have something in mind, don’t hesitate, make it happen so you won’t regret it later.

Keron: That insight is appreciated. So your first running to protest – please set the stage for our readers that were not there. A once in a lifetime event that has moved a paused city, and nation takes place and you have called a protest in concert with the many happening around the city, country, and world. What were you expecting and what actually happened?

Coffey: Well, I hit our creative director, my homeboy Chris and shared the idea with him so he could make a flyer. Then, I called Tony who’s a great running friend/brother of mine, and shared the idea with him as well. And it was actually Tony that said I will get more than 40 – 60 people, but of course, I was like we’ll see. But once I posted the flier and put out a call for all the runners in New York to meet me at the amphitheater in lower Manhattan, it was reposted over a thousand times within the first 3 to 4 hours. I know this because the captain of that district reached out to me because he sensed a problem. And later former Commissioner Mitchell Silver and I jumped on a phone call and I thought I was about to be shut down. But he let it be known that as long as he’s the commissioner I have his permission and access to begin and end at any park within the five boroughs. And I promised you not, once he said that I took a deep breath and started shedding tears because I know the cops wanted him to shut it down, but the Commissioner also stated to me, “I’m a Black man, with Black children as well and I’m tired of having to check my Blackness at the door”. And once he said that, I asked him if he would speak, and he responded with “if you will have me, then yes I will” and he was phenomenal speaking to a crowd of 1,500 runners in New York City.

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See the plan came about like this, remember I’m a filmmaker, so what I didn’t mention earlier was that I’m a huge fan of the movie “The Warriors”. And while running that one unofficial marathon early Saturday morning, the same way Cyrus called all the gangs in New York City together in the movie is where I got the idea to call all the runners in New York City together. And the rest was history.

Keron: That 2 miler in lower Manhattan, calling on all crews to wear white and be present would kick-off a monthly campaign to educate and agitate. Looking back on the start what have you learned from organizing these conversations? 

I’ve learned that some people will listen and admire what you’re doing for the community, while others will hate and talk about you, why he ain’t do this, why he ain’t do that, but as I was told some time ago, what others say about me is none of my business.  See I live in the real world where color plays a major part of your livelihood, so when it comes to my own kind saying those stupid things, I just want them to know that if something was to happen to them I would be out there fighting for justice saying their name as well. Hate it or love it, that’s just the type of person I am.  

Keron: Excellent. At this point, we’ve interviewed your Co-Captains, Powermalu, and honorary Co-Captain, Mitchell Silver, so we know there’s a network of people heavily invested in Running to Protest. Can you explain the importance of people in this movement? Please shout them out if you have to.

Coffey: Oh, they’re all very important. Power Malu. Mitchell Silver. Des Wichmann. Sierra. Adam Kurzawa. Alex Kolod. Amanda Stecco. Cheryl Donald. Brian Young. Casey Snedecor. Cheryl Mark. Chris Bosler. CiCi. Corinne Counsell. Dani. Emma Zimmerman. Erin Reese. Errol Davis. Hannah Weitzman. John Honerkamp. Julia Lucas. Kelsea Baker. Laura Eckenrod. Lawrence Abraham. Morgan Pekera. Nadia Neophytou. Rachel Abeshouse. Shannon Donnick. Sherrise. Tien Mao. Luis. Blaise. JP. Linda. Stephanie. Matt. Katie Godowski. Gary Dean Clarke.

All those people mean the world to me. They’re the ones who keep this engine running. See it’s never an I, I, I situation it’s a we thing when it comes to making changes that we wanna see in this cold cold world.

Keron: The people united will never be defeated! It’s solid to note, that bikers, activists, teachers etc. are all connected to this vehicle. At the runs you can often hear the phrase, “there are many ways to protest ours is to run”. This form of movement in the microcosm of the movement – where did you see this going a year ago?

Coffey: A year ago, I saw exactly where we’re at today. I just knew we needed a team who believes just as much as I do. And time and time again, they show up and prove just that.

Keron: You celebrated your 1 year anniversary in June (Juneteenth I believe), what has changed in the NYC streets since organizing your first run? (elections etc.)

Coffey: Well people were elected. The world opened back up. Some people forgot what we’re still fighting for. Some organizers don’t protest anymore. And as mentioned earlier, some think we’re doing the right thing by remaining in these streets. Some think we need to give it up already. But one of the main changes that I’ve seen is some people that I know personally who cared less about the movement have changed their way of thinking and now are behind the scenes fighting, helping us because they know their ancestors were part of the f*ck up. And that’s real.   

Keron: Looking back, the Running to Protest crew has covered a series of topics, I won’t ask you for a favorite – but do any hold a space in your mind and heart more than others?

Coffey: They all hold the same value. See there’s no celebrating these types of situations. Nothing to really celebrate. We shouldn’t have to be out here doing what we’re doing, but we are because some people are just assholes and want to be selfish, but me, nah, fighting for what’s right is what keeps us motivated and keep all our protest in the same category regardless how many people show face.

Keron: Let’s bring the pace down. You’re a father to 4 children, how do they view their father’s once late-night running passion to now newsworthy activist educator?

Coffey: They love it because they’re actually seeing another side of me that’s helping them educate themselves knowing that those mcgraw and hill textbooks aren’t willing to do the same.

Keron: Evolution and movement go hand in hand. As a pacer, you lead and set the pace – in fatherhood you do the same for those closest looking up to you. Keep up the movement. Where is running to protest “moving” to? {Essentially what’s next}

Coffey: What’s next is that we’re a movement led by runners protesting monthly with dialogue, running, and meditation.

Keron: Do you have anything that you’d like to share with our readers? Upcoming projects. Next running to protest?

Coffey: I do have many upcoming projects. One is with my short film About The People that I’ll share when the time is right. I’m a lululemon running ambassador as I’m sure many have seen the work I’ve done with them so far with much more to come. And lastly, our next Running to Protest is the third Sunday of September and every third Sunday of the month afterward.

Keron: Where can our readers find you?

Coffey: You can find me @ThatCoffeyBoy. @DefineNewYorkRunClub. @AboutThePeopleFilm. @RunningToProtest.

Join us for a leisurely 3 mile sexy pace jog around downtown Chicago on 10/9

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