Run! Punk Run!
IN CONVERSATION WITH THAI RICHARDS
How’s it going?
Taking it easy, man. I actually just came back from a 10-miler not so long ago so now I’m just having my little recovery session and what not.
Awesome, where’d you run?
I was out here in Brooklyn, from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you know what I’m sayin’? Little bit of Soho, little bit of Lower East Side, back. So two bridges, over the Manhattan bridge, back over the Williamsburg.
I used to work at the Nike store in Flatiron. Not too many people can smoke and run, so me and my boy from that time rip miles every now and then. We haven’t seen each other in almost like 9 months, this was the first time we’ve run in forever so it was kinda dope.
Where do you live?
I’m a Brooklyn boy.
Oh really? I thought you were from Harlem — do you do a lot of runs there or something? I thought I saw that in your feed.
Ah that’s probably it. Yeah, we do our runs there in Seneca Village. My biggest thing is incorporating old New York history into what we’re doing. One of the things we wanted to highlight was in Harlem, the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem is a real pivotal ground for African Americans. With everything that happened after slavery, Jim Crow and everything, Harlem was the place to be. I really wanted to highlight that and that Seneca Village was a thriving African community, a multicultural community, really—there were Germans, Irish. A lot of people aren’t aware of that and aren’t aware that Central Park was built over top of that and they completely wiped these people out.
We also highlight what happens in other neighborhoods in New York. For instance, a lot of people don’t understand what happened in the Bowery area of Soho. That was a very influential area in the African American community after a lot of slaves were freed during the Dutch rule of New Amsterdam. They gave a bunch of Africans a plot of land in the Bowery, Soho area. Once the English came in, they took over that land.
When I lived in New York, I always liked to explore historical sites on my runs too. It’s really incredible that you’re taking that and sharing it with other people.
Hell yeah, man. I have a lot of pride in my culture. I’m West Indian. Growing up with a West Indian background, I had the opportunity to dive into a lot of realms of African culture, a lot of African American culture.
There’s a lot of misunderstandings within the black community. We get in our own way. African Americans don’t really fuck with West Indians, Africans straight from Africa don’t really fuck with African Americans. Everyone has this stigma against African Americans and it’s very interesting to see how all these relationships play out.
I want to unify people through running and have the opportunity to show people our cultures really aren’t all that different. Even with Afro-Latinos, Afro-Latinos have this thing sometimes where they don’t identify with African culture and even be racist and all kind of crazy shit. So I even try to beat that stigma, like you know, look—all the drums, all the different things that make your culture so magnificent are in the African culture as well, so you can’t deny your heritage. Using the historical bond to really unify people is my goal with a lot of our events.
You’ve said before that you try not to make anything you do too political because of what you were kind of getting at just now, believing that the human struggle is really all the same and that everybody goes through something regardless of race, color, creed, whatever it may be. Contrasting that with what you just told me, what does activism mean to you then? If we are to think of activism as wanting to incite some political or social change?
My thing with not being too political… well, people are very tribal and opinionated. And I want to leave those things outside of running. When we come together, those things shouldn’t matter. I don’t give a fuck what religion you are, whatever the case may be. For me, activism means taking what I can to help the community do the best for themselves so they can do their due diligence to help change the world, because honestly I know my superpower. My superpower is empowering people, instilling the courageousness to be yourself, to live that truth. It doesn’t matter where you are in life, what’s going on around you. You control you. If you can’t control yourself, you’re always going to lose, you know what I’m sayin’? So within controlling yourself, you always have the understanding that you have to have these practices that help you stay focused and help you stay at top of your game.
So for me, me being an activist in my own way, I would say I use running as a means of therapy and a means of allowing people to step into other peoples’ realms by using the struggle of running. Running is an ego death. I don’t give a fuck who you are. If you run, and I don’t care how much you run, you could not run for a month and even if you’ve ran your entire life, that first run may be a bit tough and a lot of people can resonate with that. It’s just fascinating that we have all these struggles, we have all these different things, and using running as a means to show that we’re all equal in that sense of going through something because I don’t give a fuck how fast you may be, you’re going to struggle at some point during your running journey. So using that as a means of understanding humanity and our struggle, that’s my biggest thing as an activist.
From what I’m sensing, to you there is something inherent about the act of running that contains what it means to exist and go through the motions of life. It’s not so much about ignoring these sociopolitical issues but rather about acknowledging them and then leaving them at the door when you walk into this space of running with other people. Would you say that describes your attitude toward it?
Exactly. Because at the end of the day, when you run with somebody—white, black, doesn’t make a difference. There is a kindred feeling, running with somebody, breathing with somebody, channeling that type of energy. You can feel it. For me, when I run with people, I’m never really the type to talk. I’m running on that energy. I want to feel *you*. I want to understand that when we’re in this moment, we’re connected. We’re putting in this work and we’re dedicated to what we’re doing within this moment. Synced minds. You know what they say about church and anything spiritual: when one or more gather together in the name of the lord, then that’s a church? In my mind, running is definitely a spiritual exercise. So to connect on that level with people, as simple as the act of running may be, when we come together we are powerful, and in that connection of moving in like-mindedness we are heading toward something beautiful. That in and of itself is activism. If I can find a place in your mind, in your heart, that means whatever was in that moment, that positivity is always going to resonate. We’re being a prime example of the type of energy we want to attract and put out into the world.
You just mentioned breathing with people while you run with them. I know you do a lot of breathing exercises. What does that practice mean to you?
So, check it. When I first started running cross country, I was 11 years old. And I was really passionate about running as soon as I started. I didn’t really understand the mechanics to the degree that I do now but it came naturally to me. It was never really a struggle to get my body into that motion. When I would run, I noticed I had different breathing patterns as I was running faster or slower. So as I started picking up on that over the years, I was like, Oh shit, okay. If I have a certain rhythm, I can go at this pace. I started picking up on the “gears” of my body; the amount of breath, the amount of energy that is required. I realized that every motion has a breath behind it, so you have to be very mindful of how you’re feeding your body through your airways. There are some runs where I don’t even breathe through my mouth, I’m just literally breathing through my nose the entire time. So when I started realizing these things, especially as a cannabis user, I started realizing, Okay, bet! This is something that is very crucial.
I noticed it within yoga too. I’ve actually always been really into the science of spirit and the science of mind and body and what it can do when all of that is in sync, and once I started realizing that yogis were using breathing techniques to get into all these different odd poses, and you know you have these contortionists who have all these different techniques in order to put themselves in all these weird positions, and you have all these crazy fuckin’ mountain men who are in the Alps and shit with no shirt, just fuckin’ underwear and breathing. You know what I’m sayin’?! Like the Iceman, literally just generating heat from his breathing. So once I realized that you have all these different techniques, I started realizing to myself that as a runner—not even just as a runner actually but as a fitness enthusiast—these breathing techniques that came really naturally to me over time could really be useful to a lot of people.
Because there will be times when I’m doing something at like, Tone House, or Barry’s, all these crazy fuckin’ gyms where they got you doing crazy things and it helps me a lot... you know what I’m talking about?
Yeah, like High Intensity Interval Training type of shit?
Yeah, I’m a sick fuck with that kind of stuff. Those breathing patterns during those high intensity workouts also changed my perspective on motion and breathing because, you know, that’s a whole different type of suffering. When you’re going through a high intensity workout and you’re panting, you have to be able to control your mind. Once your mind gets out of wack with the high intensity thing, you can be thrown off your game completely.
High intensity workouts are an ego-buster too. When people come into a place like Barry’s or whatever they come in with their own ego—they wanna be the first, they wanna be this, they wanna be that. But I’m not looking for that. I want the best of my workout and to optimize my workout, and that takes breath. You can do all of that shit, you can do it fast, but at the end of the day how long can you do it for? That also depends on breath. To make it all short, this is something that I’ve been working on, and unconsciously been working on, since I was like 12, 13 years old.
That makes sense to me. And actually, I want to circle back to what we were talking about in the beginning. Would you call New York City home?
Nah, New York state overall. Because I grew up in Brooklyn, you know, but I left Brooklyn when I was 11—
Where in Brooklyn?
So I moved a lot. With my mom having me at 16 and her being very young, there was a lot of moving and changing. Our base is in Crown Heights, that’s where my family’s house is. But we lived all over. We lived in Flatbush, Bed-Stuy, East New York, Brownsville, Central Brooklyn. Before I left to go upstate—to Orange County, New York—I was living in Flatbush. And when I came back, I moved back to Flatbush and ended up moving all over the place, dude. I was homeless several times. I been through a lot as far as moving is concerned. When I moved upstate, that changed a lot.
Would you consider your project Rage & Release a New York City run crew? With that, how do you feel about the New York City run crew scene? Was that a consideration for you when you were putting together Rage & Release?
Truth be told, we’re not even a crew. Rage & Release is a brand and running is a means of connecting to the community and spreading the joy of fitness. It’s a passion of mine. But Rage & Release is definitely a lifestyle brand because my goal is to do a lot more outside of running. But running is something I love and is something that’s completely untapped within the real black community. African Americans don’t have a real connection to long distance running, even though we are very, very founded within the roots of long distance running.
My goal within everything that we’re doing with Rage & Release is to bring running back into the black community to where it’s acceptable and we’ll see the next Lebron James of running, the Serena Williams of running, we’ll see runners coming from all over the world who never really thought about running before. I’m looking forward to having kids who would have never have thought about putting on a singlet put on a singlet.
I remember getting called all kinds of slurs when I came back to the hood [from upstate] when I was 17. I was still running in all my cross country gear that I got from school, and you’re running in short shorts through the hood. This was a time where running was not a boom in New York City yet. You still had your pockets of people who were doing it but for the most part you stayed in the park and you really didn’t explore too many neighborhoods. And I was one of those people who was running from neighborhood to neighborhood, and many times people would throw shit at me and all kinds of stuff. So like for me, I wanted to break the mold of masculine energy and femininity in black men, because you’re looking at me and thinking I’m gay for wearing short shorts is just disrespectful because you’re ignorant. I wanted to break that and I also wanted to break the stereotype of running being hard or running just being a white man’s sport. You know black folk have this thing sometimes where you’ll be talking about something like running and they’ll say, “That’s some white people shit.” And it’s like, nah dude—this is some everybody shit.
I feel like a lot of what you just said embodies a sort of attitude, a very punk mentality. Would you consider yourself a punk? What does the word punk represent to you?
Fuckin’ rebel dude! You kidding me? I love punk. I can’t name any and every band but there was a lot of music that was very influential to me while I was growing up because of my cousin. When I was growing up with him, we grew up listening to a lot of classical music, Slipknot, all kinds of shit. We just listened to music. Punk rock was something different to me though, because it was so raw. It was similar to hip hop, it was similar to any music that resonated within being a human being. I could listen to Bob Marley and listen to punk music and still get the same vibe, you know what I’m sayin’? And like, the fact that I got to do something like this—I didn’t even really know who Joe Strummer was but I knew who The Clash were. I didn’t know exactly that I was gonna be representing someone like him, so to have this opportunity is amazing.
I’ve always had some type of punk attitude to me. I paint my nails all the time, I grow fuckin' mohawks and shit like that, I love skinny jeans. Punk culture wasn’t really a thing within the black community until Afro-punk really blew up. Lupe Fiasco blew up with Kick Push, you know and skateboarding became really prevalent and then the fashion came with it. But I was already into that fashion, I grew up with my white friends upstate who were into all that shit. So my fashion game was real. When I wore something I meant that shit and it meant something to the people around me too. Growing up around that whole culture definitely influenced me in a way where it was just like, be an individual. Be the fuck you. And don’t be the fuck ashamed of anything. I’m a non-conformist from being a punk in a type of way, having my own ideals, being me. So if I were to give a representation of being a punk, that would be it for me. It’s allowed me to live out loud.
Expression of the self, self-care—these seem really important to everything that you do. Do you think you’ve seen a shift in how people are thinking about self-care this year?
Of course. This year is a year that has forced people to become uncomfortable and to deal with the uncomfortable, which I love. I’ve been homeless several times throughout my 20’s, so I’ve been very uncomfortable. I’ve gone through a lot of different things that have made me uncomfortable as a man, as a human. So for me, when I see people finally acknowledging that, it makes me very happy. Now they have the time to really realize, I ain’t shit. Maybe I can fix this. Maybe I can fix my attitude, my perspective, my relationships, my approach to everything. So I’m happy people have had these moments but I’m sad that at the same time, it took COVID—it took something so dramatic—to change their lives. Fuckin’ sucks that it took that. It shouldn’t take something like this for people to be so realistic with themselves, you know?
Yeah, I think about that a lot.
It bugs me out. It took this? It fuckin’ took people to be dying, the world to fuckin’ shutdown, for you to not be able to work, for people to lose their jobs, for you to not be able to go to fuckin’ clubs anymore, to be like, You know what? My life was kinda crazy!
I think my sense of reality is a bit different than most of the American appeal because I’ve had the opportunity to go back home to Guyana, where my family is from. When I go back home the internet is trash, there’s rolling blackouts, the roads is fucked up, the government is highly corrupt, there’s crazy segregation. Like right now, the hostility between Indians and Blacks is through the roof. They’re skinning people and chopping heads off. The racial tension is crazy. When I go back there, I get to see what it’s like, what life is like for real, for real. Then you come back to America, we’re fuckin privileged. And I laugh, because I’m just like, yo, you don’t know what it’s like to run out of water and you have to collect rain water. You might not ever know what the internet or TV is like. People living in shacks and shit like that. There’s all kinds of insects. You know what I’m sayin’? Shit is bugged out, B. So here in America when people complain about this and complain about that, I’m just like, *Man, you don’t even know what it’s like dude!* Mind you, here in America these same things is happening. Some people don’t even have proper internet or proper food and shit like that. It’s scary dude, it’s scary.
Are you hopeful for the future though?
Hell yeah! Just as much wicked shit there is going on in the world, there is just as much positive shit going on. I don’t believe in the future, I believe in people. I believe in people being out there and keeping other people hopeful and keeping other people realistic. To keep it real with you bro, when you look at everything that’s going on in the world, it’s kind of really hard to be hopeful about anything. It kind of is. To me it’s like, if we go back to history again… we’ve been going through the same shit for years!!! You mean to tell me the shit we read in textbooks as a kid we going through again?! Get the fuck out of here. Are we actually evolving at all? It’s really hard to tell people that the future is lit. But while we here right now, we gonna make it as positive and as lively as possible and we gonna try to make sure that—God forbid anything happens to us—when it’s time to meet that fate, it’s an easy transition.
Because believe it or not, my whole approach to everything is also about death. We continuously die in so many different ways as humans. My biggest thing is to continue to take care of yourself because when real death happens, your heart is clean. I feel like that’s the biggest struggle with human beings on this planet, when people die with heavy hearts, when their minds are never really at ease. That’s the biggest problem. Even when you become sick, people start thinking about how they could have done things differently or better but it’s like, nah fuck that! Why you alive right now? Acknowledge where you are, why you are here, how you got here, all those different things. And then you look at who you are, who are your friends, your family, what matters to you? When you figure that out, it kind of makes life simpler. When you ignore or deny those things, you’re just making your existence that much harder.
What’s the first thing you think about when wake up? And the last thought before you sleep?
Truth be told, the first thing I think about is why I do anything. Why am I doing this? What kind of energy am I putting behind it? What kind of energy am I losing in doing it?
And then the last thought, did I make it count? Man, it’s so easy to get lost in a day. Time just be flying, days weave into each other, and then years. That whole veil of time and space is way different when you’re a kid than when you’re an adult. When you’re a kid, time is so slow and when you’re an adult, it’s like what the fuck? I was 18 like two days ago. It’s interesting how that works. Having that awareness is super key.
Do you have any last words?
In this day and age, I hope that everybody is really looking deep and really believing in their intuition, understanding what intuition is for them, and allowing it to guide them. I hope that whatever it is that they’re doing that makes them happy, they allow it to really guide them to making the world just a little better. We don’t have to be superheroes, but if we can make five people smile, that’s just as good as making a hundred people smile. I just want what we’re doing to matter during this time because if we’re not making it count for everybody, then it’s just selfish. I don’t want people to be selfish. I don’t think we have the time or space to be selfish right now. We need to take time to love each other but that starts with *you—*what kind of energy you put out into the world and what kind of energy you generate within yourself. I just hope that everybody is confident enough to take on the struggles that go on within themselves so that they can go out into the world and make their life journey most worth it. We don’t know what’s going on after this world. It’s important to have faith, diligence, and patience and just do your best.