in conversation with Thai Richards
Thai Richards is a lean, mean, fightin’ machine. Actually, he’s more of a lean, nice, uh, lovin’ device? Whatever you wanna call him, Thai is someone who, when he talks, you should press record. Just shy of thirty, Thai is a wise old soul who has a lot to say, and I couldn’t stop listening. No seriously. I intended this interview to go for twenty-five minutes…it lasted fifty-four. And it wasn’t just because we were smoking copious amounts of weed. I swear.
While we’re on that topic, Thai and his business partner, Kenisha White, are forging a path for fitness to shed its Lululemons, loosen up, and incorporate mind and spirit with the body… sometimes with the help of cannabis. After discovering a liberating love of running, Thai dreamt up Rage & Release, where he incorporates the sport with food education, mental healthcare, and what he calls “pampering” (which is, like, the non-Karen way of saying “self-care”). Rage & Release is a pro-weed, running focused, mental health positive, multi-dimensional fitness empire, and I got to meet up with Thai in Crown Heights to talk more about it.
Running has always been a thing for me, because there was a liberating feeling to it even from the very beginning. More than all the other sports. I experienced a lot of open-mindedness during my first years of cross country. I was the only black kid on my team, but it wasn’t about that. It was about the fact that I got the chance to run in the woods. (Laughs) I was livin’ in the projects or livin’ in different buildings, concrete jungle lifestyle, you know? And then you go to the woods, and it’s just like, “What the fuck?”
Where did you find woods to run in?
When 9/11 happened, I left the city. My aunt had just got a house upstate, and I decided that it was dangerous to be here. My mom had just come back from the Lower East Side, covered in dust. You could see that she clearly went through something, and the city was shook up. And with that energy, I was just like, “Man, I don’t wanna be here.” If they’re blowin’ up stuff that close to home, who the hell knows what else could happen? So my aunt took me in, and the next thing you know, I was fuckin’ runnin’ cross country. School was boring, especially in the suburbs, so you gotta have an outlet. I figured out that running is what I love, and how I feel most responsive to my mind. It’s how I can tap into things that I probably wouldn’t have ever looked at before. Because when you’re running and you have some quiet, or even if you’re listening to music, there’s still this nonstop thought process going on. Tapping into all of the subconscious things actually made me a lot more vulnerable. So once I realized that running was more of a spiritual engagement than a physical thing, I really wanted to bring that essence into the fitness realm. Because a lot of times, spirituality and fitness are almost like church and state. There is no real merging of the two. And you can’t deny that it takes some kind of dedication, and that dedication is almost spiritual in the sense where, if you’re going from Point A to Point B, it takes so much in between. So all these different things need to happen mentally, spiritually, and physically. We can’t ignore that. So within that, we really find the balance of what it is to be a mindful athlete.
Was there a defining moment when you were running as a young person, that made you realize there was a spiritual element to it?
That psychedelic moment, yeah. I’ve had a lot of breakthrough moments where it’s like, “Oh shit, yeah.” Because your ego is stripped constantly as a runner. Running is definitely a sport that is not exactly about repetition. Because no matter how much you run, if you take a week off, you’re not gonna be as good as the week before. As opposed to other sports, where muscle memory kicks in for you sometimes. So those moments are really defining, because it allows you to see who you are, and really gages your fortitude and what you’re capable of. Because the stress that you have to be willing to put on yourself as a runner, you probably have a serious capacity on the other side. Just as much as you strip yourself, you are also coming into yourself so many different times.
Do you ever run not high?
Yeah, I run not high a lot. The thing about it is, I don’t like using cannabis too much when it comes to anything physical. Because I want to know that it’s not cannabis driving it. I need to know that I’m capable of pushing through so many of the obstacles in life without cannabis. Cus at the end of the day, it’s not a crutch, it’s a medical thing. It’s a sacrament. I grew up with very Rastafarian-like morals and standards when it comes to cannabis.
Before we started the interview, you were talking a little bit about your family. Does your family history carry over into what you’re doing with Rage & Release?
Everything. There hasn’t been anything I’ve done that hasn’t had to do with my parents or my grandparents and my family overall. My grandfather’s parents were killed, and he was pretty much raised on his own. My grandfather was born in 1942 or some madness like that. That’s like, sharecroppin’ days. We actually have a terrible relationship, but it’s a lot of the reason why I am who I am today. A lot of the relationships with my family have bred me to become a person that’s very responsible in the sense of how I treat my relationships, and how I handle people, and how I handle me. So it’s actually a blessing that I had a shit relationship with him. It’s made me more of a man in a lot of different ways that I probably don’t even realize. My father was killed when I was three. He was a drug dealer back in the day, you know, the 80s and 90s. The crack era when everybody was hustlin’ and doin’ something. And he went down to North Carolina, and unfortunately a friend of his did some underhanded shit, and the next thing you know, my dad took a bullet for it. My mom was sixteen when she had me, so having a young mom was also very interesting, because she took a lot of that on. You could imagine being a young mom, the love of your life is killed, then what? My mom went through a lot of things herself very early. So for me, I grew up raising myself because my mom worked a lot. It wasn’t until I moved with my aunt that I really had more of a family structure. Also, my grandparents coming from the West Indies, and then my father’s side of the family being Native American and African. That whole mixup is so much. That’s where I get a lot of my medicinal properties from. There’s so much earthiness to those cultures. How could I deny that? When I was growin’ up, I had bush tea every day. I didn’t have Lipton’s tea or somethin’ like that. She grew peppermint in the backyard. My grandfather, too. Green thumbs. I don’t even understand how they did it.
Do you think cannabis has helped you come to some of the spiritual realizations you seem to have had about life?
I would say it’s given me the opportunity to be a lot more quiet. To hear what my mind, or my spirit, or whatever guide or god is leading me through life. It’s helped me in that way. But I don’t think it’s helped me come to these realizations. I think I was always on the path already. My grandparents on my mom’s side were both masons. My grandmother was a mason, which is unusual for women. She was a mason and a mechanic. That’s one of the main reasons I’m a spiritual vagabond. Growing up and going to mason lodges, and then going to the mosque, and then going to Catholic churches, and then Baptist, you know, just…church. Those experiences allowed me to see god in a whole different light. I realized very early that all these things that people are praising is just god. Just god with a different face. Somebody had a different name, different experience with what they call god or an energy that they recognize as god. And the next thing they know it’s Buddha, it’s Allah. So I recognized that immediately. When you look at all of them, they all have the same teachings, and they all went through the same sacrifices. Jesus in the desert, Allah in the cave, Buddha fasting. So once I realized that, I was like, “What is the madness that’s going on in the world?” in the sense of the separation. So I started adopting things. All these different morals and standards. And asking why does this work? And why doesn’t this work? Because positivity is the basis of it all. My grandparents are the force behind a lot of things because they had nothing. And I really appreciate the underdogs. Because it takes a different type of grit to go out in the world, even though you’ve been beaten up however many times. And I think that’s across all cultures, not just black culture. That’s why, during these times, I don’t make anything we do too political. Because at the end of the day, the human struggle is very much all the same. We’re all goin’ through something regardless of race, color, creed, whatever it is. Even rich people are fucked up. They got money, that doesn’t mean they’re safe from mental health issues and all these different things. A lot of poor people are much happier than rich people.
For sure. It’s such a myth that wealth will make you happier. Is Rage & Release a brand? A company?
Mmmmm…that’s what we’re still trying to figure out, because we’re multi-dimensional. Like for example, we’re launching a supper club November 12. We have two chefs and we’ve created what’s called “The Bang Bang Experience.” My partner and I love food, and The Bang Bang is all about being greedy. You go to one spot and you think, “Oh this food’s great. But what would be even better is if I mixed it with this food now.” It’s a culture clash of food. I curate the tastes, so it could be, like, Venezuelan and Georgian food. What is that? And having the opportunity to tell the stories of cultures with the food. And also, because of the times we’re in right now, travel is limited. So why not be able to have those experiences with somebody who’s actually from the culture, or very well-versed in it?
I’m also working on designs for clothing because I hate the functionality of a lot of brands when it comes to fitness. It’s kinda trash. And it’s not really New York City approved. (Laughs)
So is the supper club a “Rage & Release Presents” sort of thing?
So that’s one element. And then you have your clothing line, events, and then the running club. Is there anything else?
We’re actually looking to open a space. Having a space is going to solidify all the different aspects of the lifestyle that we wanna really bring to the table and reinforce. Because it’s one thing to do these things with people once or twice a week. But when they actually have a place to come, and they can feel like this is a home or a hub for them, that really helps us create the community we want.
What would the space be used for?
We want to create a recovery space. I’ve always been very big on pampering. I enjoy quality of living and I think everybody should have that thought process about themselves. A lot of men don’t look at pampering themselves as masculine, or whatever the case may be. But it is very much so. Kings were known for being divas. So we want to bring that aspect to the table of recovering from the city, the mindfulness aspect, and the events all in this one space. Where we can really reinforce what we’re doing. Cus right now, our events are here, or our run is there. And that’s cool, but that’s really just to have our outreach.
Mental health seems to be an important part of your outreach. I’m baffled and infuriated by how many mentally ill people I’m seeing all over the city now. I don’t understand how more public funding isn’t going towards helping people with mental illness.
You feel me. That’s one of the reasons we’re very big on it. I grew up with a cousin who was diagnosed with auditory hallucinations and schizophrenia. He’s currently in prison.
Of course! Because we criminalize mental illness.
His psychosis led him to do something that he wasn’t really fully aware of, because he stopped taking his meds for awhile. We had no idea that he was mentally ill until he was twenty-seven or twenty-eight. This was somebody I grew up with, and he helped raise me. So to see him deteriorate as a person because of mental illness, was like, holy shit, this is really real. He almost committed suicide. He wouldn’t drink, he wouldn’t eat, because the voices in his head were telling him he had to starve. So I watched a lot of different things within my family due to mental health. He’s not the only one. There’s things that happened in my family where people probably should have had a doctor and they didn’t. And depression and all of these things caused them to deteriorate over time. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get him help the way he should have been helped, and we weren’t able to help the way we would have liked to.
It’s also tough because a lot of mental healthcare is either too expensive, or scary and inadequate because they just drug people.
And that’s the whole thing, that’s one of the main reasons we’re so big on the holistic approach. Because he himself was trying his best to medicate himself.
Would you say it’s possible to self-medicate with marijuana?
No. Because some people don’t know what’s enough. You can’t really die from an overdose with cannabis, so somebody with mental illness can smoke too much. And then they become disillusioned. Because THC now is a whole different ball game with medical marijuana and everything. Some of these cannabis plants are powerful. So I can’t imagine if you’re not getting the right plant with the right compounds. You would have to go to a person that could recommend the right plants for you. Because if you’re going out there and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m goin’ through whatever, I’m gonna smoke some sour.” You know how strong sour is. There’s so much powerful weed out there. Some of these plants are 27% THC. That’s powerful for somebody who’s going through something.
Did you come up with the name Rage & Release?
Yeah. What’s interesting is when I really started Rage & Release, I was homeless. I was homeless multiple times throughout my twenties. And I wouldn’t say I was homeless, like I was completely on the streets. But many times I was damn close. I don’t know what it is, though, but people like me. I’ve been very blessed and people will just be like, “Yo, just come and live with me.” (Laughs) And I’m like, “Say no more!” You don’t necessarily expect it to happen. But I’m so grateful to the powers that be, because not everybody is so fortunate. So while I was going through the different transitions, I realized if I was gonna help lead something, then I needed to be a leading example of that, regardless of where I am in life. So whatever is going on, I gotta face it. Because there’s no way I’m gonna be able to go and talk to people, and do all these things, and be a pillar of a community, and meanwhile I’m over here in shambles. I figured no matter what I’m going through in life, I gotta be balanced. So no matter how fucked up I am, nobody will ever know it. (Laughs) Because these moments are reassuring moments. When we have these talks like this, these moments with people. For instance, last week, we had this woman who decided she was gonna come run with us for her birthday. Just a random run. She doesn’t know shit about what’s about to happen to her. Homegirl ran five miles. And mind you, she thought she wasn’t gonna be able to make it past a mile. You shoulda seen the jitterbugs. She was lookin’ crazy before the run, and she’s like, “I don’t know if I can keep up with you guys.” Next thing you know, she comes finishin’ strong at the end. You could see the runner’s high. (Laughs) Those moments are just like, “Yes! This is what it’s about.”
How do you describe rage?
Rage comes from what I’ve seen throughout my life, as far as the human experience. I love history, so you go way back and everybody’s fightin’ for what? Fightin’ for land, fightin’ for food. You know how much energy that takes? That’s rage. You gotta wake up and kill, you gotta hunt. We’re still hunter gatherers in some form or fashion, we just don’t always kill and do all those things. But at the same time, we still are out there with a certain type of energy. You don’t wanna get up sometimes. You don’t wanna go to work sometimes. All these different pent up energies add up to a little bit of rage. So everybody feels a little bit of, “I wanna fuck somethin’ up today,” at some point. No matter if it’s one time or three times during the week, or even many times during the week. Somebody’s feelin’ like, “Fuck this shit.” And that’s exactly why I love that word “rage.” It’s what everybody’s going through. At some point, that’s exactly what you wanna do. You wanna rage against something. I remember growin’ up in the projects, and you can’t necessarily control your environment. And because you can’t control your environment, now you become a part of it, or you become a victim to it, or you become prey to it, or a hunter, whatever the case may be. And all those things add up to some type of rage. And then release is the other side of that. If you can reach the other side of that. As somebody who is pushing something like this, I understand how powerful those words are. I really wanted it to be as powerful as what we’re doing. Because it does matter that somebody feels good during the week, or feels good at any time during the day. People need love. People need that empowerment, but for self. I want you to generate it for yourself. Because I don’t want you fuckin’ coming here and using us as a source of your happiness. Fuck that. I’m not easy on people when it comes to that. If you really love yourself, you’re gonna do things for you. Like I ask people what they’re using cannabis for. Are you hiding behind cannabis? Are you hiding behind fitness? Are you hiding behind meditation? Because so many people use yoga and fitness as a means of escaping their problems, instead of punching them in the face. You keep doing those things, you keep running away and putting it to the side, it’s not doin’ anything for you. You gotta figure it out at some point. None of these things should be taking you away from something. You should be facing them head on.
Do you think society could benefit from more white people trying to get in touch with their roots, rather than just saying,”I’m American?”
Of course. But it’s just one of those situations where it’s just like, why? It’s just too much. Because if you start to look back too much, now you gotta start questioning everything. Nobody wants to question everything. Especially when life is good.
Right. And for someone like an elderly Republican Christian, to question would mean to reevaluate their entire life. And to potentially feel like it was a waste, because they might realize they had it all wrong.
But I love how people like that are a prime example of human programming. I love it. The social experimentation. Psychologically, it is fascinating to see how people can be controlled. Capitalism does that. Capitalism is the number one programmer, because at the end of the day, everybody wants what? To have a certain quality of life. So if they feel that being Christian makes their life easier, then so be it, you know what I’m sayin? Especially because most white men who are successful in this country are white Christian males. But same thing in the black culture, or the black community. There are successful Christian males. You look at the Christian dominance within the black community, it’s mostly Christian in America. It’s funny that you were talking about white folks diving into their history, but man, there’s a lot of black folk who don’t know their history at all. And they don’t wanna know their history. Because to them, it’s just like, “I’m just American. If I look back, it’s just slavery.” And it’s just like, “Actually, your great great granddad could’ve been the dude that invented the fridge. You just don’t know, though.” Slaves invented so many different things, but the history doesn’t allow you to go that far back. But again, it’s also so painful. Why look back? Why go there? And I think within the pain, that same thing with rage, having to dive that far back and actually having the mental gall to say, “I’m gonna face this, I’m gonna figure this out. I’m gonna untangle some psychological demons and traumas and things that have been plaguing my bloodline.” Because things like that do travel through DNA. And you really have to think about how that affects you overall as a human. Because trauma is one of the main reasons why I myself need a rage and release. Whether it’s what I went through with my father, dealing with my mom not really havin’ the motherly instincts I felt like she should have had or whatever. But she was growing. Everybody is growing. And that’s something I had to realize as well. That when everybody’s growing, they’re gonna do things that you might not think are necessary, but it’s necessary for them. So it’s about not allowing those moments to define me, but also realizing those moments are something to pay attention to, because there is something to take away from them. Those traumatic moments, they really do last and last and last, if you don’t fix them.
What is it about something that makes it traumatizing, rather than just being something you experience that time will heal?
That’s a tricky question, because I think it’s on you. How it affects you as a person. At least from my perspective. Because something that might stay in my mind for however long, might not even matter to you. Two days later you done forgot about it, but for me, I’m all fucked up. So I think it’s all relative. Especially with sensitivity. People’s emotion, the ebbs are very different. I’m not gonna lie to you, I think me being desensitized to a lot of things, I’m actually a lot more rational than I should be in some ways. Because I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit. I remember getting chased by prostitutes not too far from here. It’s pitch black, people are gettin’ robbed, you’re seein’ crackheads. All these different things that people don’t see now in Brooklyn. This was in the 90s. The 90s was fuckin’ wild.
How have you personally dealt with your trauma?
To be honest with you, I don’t hold anything back. You see in this conversation, I’m very vulnerable. The vulnerability or the openness that I’ve allowed myself to have, definitely has a lot of breakthrough moments. Because for me to sit back and act like I’m not goin’ through things or I’m not affected by something, I think would definitely allow me to self destruct, which I can’t afford. I think I realized very young that I was gonna go through a lot of things by myself. Things that I couldn’t necessarily understand. So once I realized that, I just started building a defense mechanization very early. A very realistic defense mechanism, where I question myself. I dissect things very thoroughly. And I’m also very alert, so the universe allows me to fall into things that offer me help. I’m very fortunate for the spirituality within myself, that’s directed me in certain ways, to where I had positive reinforcement from my moments of being in traumatic situations. So I ground myself constantly. And I also make sure of my emotional state. I’m always questioning myself like, “Are you okay? Are you sure you’re okay? What’s eating at you? Or why is it eating at you?” Because I grew up very insecure. And when I realized that other people are insecure too in some ways, I started realizing again, that in this human experience, we’re all going through the same things. So like, for me, I’m not looking at myself as if what I’m going through is special. Nah, nah. I’m lookin’ at it like, “Okay, somebody else figured it out before. I can definitely figure somethin’out for myself.” Somethin’ has to work, you know? So I’m gonna keep runnin, I’m gonna keep doin’ something til I’m gonna run into an answer. So that’s literally my approach to anything traumatic. Somethin’ gotta give. There’s no way I’m gonna be in this rut for however long. There’s no way that my existence is encapsulated in this one situation. Nah. It can’t be.