clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How We Run Uptown is using a running club to demand social justice and build a legacy

In the newest episode of “No Sleeping In The Trophy Room,” We Run Uptown founders Hector Espinal and Joshua Mock dive deep into the background of the WRU Crew.

“No Sleeping in the Trophy Room” is REVOLT’s digital series hosted by Carlos Del Valle. This sit-down style show is a conversation series fueled by motivation, experience and truth, where Del Valle interviews successful individuals across different industries.

It’s a tried and true adage within the running community: “If you have sneakers, you can run.”

Once heralded as a message of inclusivity among the endless number of running clubs and marathon training across the globe, the phrase has been a hallmark for accessibility. But, as faces most commonly associated with the notion of running clubs have evolved, so have the implications of this motto.

Enter We Run Uptown.

Founded by Hector Espinal and Joshua Mock, the club finds its roots between the Bronx and Washington Heights. Through it, the duo has cultivated a community previously foreign to most residents north of Central Park and in the newest episode of “No Sleeping In The Trophy Room,” host Los Antonio, who’s had the privilege of experiencing these runs firsthand, dives deep into the background of the WRU Crew and its role in supplementing access for communities of color.

Early on, the two founders were introduced to the foundational tenets that would shape who they are as men and leaders. For Hector, this equated to a simple reality check, courtesy of his father when he was tasked with deciding whether or not he would abide to an ill-fitting life in the streets or adjust to a more savory lifestyle. In Josh’s case, the values of family and loyalty would arrive via the necessity of ensuring that his younger brother was with him at all times.

What the meeting place of these backgrounds would eventually create is a manifestation of the best of their upbringings: An alternative to hanging on the block without purpose and the creation of a mindfully inclusive space for mind and body.

Early in the conversation, Josh recalls growing up across a park, giving him the opportunity to get into physical activities usually denied to children growing up within inner cities. Even so, the space alone wasn’t enough to deter many of his peers from lives that have ended in a jail cell or a graveyard. He attributes his fortune to a good mentor who taught him how to use his resources best.

“I was able to experience a space where I could feel safe,” he recalls. “That’s kind of what we provide Uptown.”

For Hector, accessibility to an active lifestyle, like Josh, was fairly limited but available nonetheless as he calls back on memories of joining a local basketball league simply by being able to sign up for a local basketball league with canned goods as the currency of entry. Physical activity usually remained within the bounds of organized sports like basketball, football or baseball. This left the idea of simply running as a foreign notion. It was so foreign, in fact, that when Josh and Hector finally assembled an official running club, Hector believed that it was a concept that they’d originated.

“It was dope for us to understand that we did not create this,” says Hector, making note of the plethora of running clubs they began to interact with throughout New York City.

But, the concept didn’t arrive without pushback and a learning curve. At the inception of WRU, the two men remember people from all walks of life, themselves included, showing up to run in large cotton t-shirts, basketball shorts, and Air Force 1s on hand. All the while, the proof was in the numbers. The attire would come in time.

“When we did that and we saw how many people showed up from our neighborhood who were not runners, we were like, ‘Alright, we got it. We could definitely do this.’”

While it was a breath of fresh air for the block, Hector remembers moments of dissent from his neighborhood with opposition arriving in the form of remarks of running being “corny” for starters.

The remedy, however, proved to be persistence and a little bit of strategy. The two men buckled down with their Monday runs, boosting consistency that would prove that the We Run Uptown running club was more than a fad. The strategy arrived by way of the idea to invite female friends along for runs. Naturally, it moved the needle in making runs more appealing.

Even then, Hector and Josh have been intentional in not allowing discomfort to bar anyone from participating, ensuring that both women and men are given a safe space to enjoy.

“Plenty of times Josh and I pressed people at the run that said something that did not fit with our values,” says Hector. “This is something we constantly have to do.”

Other exercises in etiquette include Hector and Josh’s assurance in making sure that everyone who participates in a run is not left behind by the group as they make note of failures within other clubs that leave slower runners behind in unknown territory, essentially dismantling any sense of community.

It’s a part of the experience that arrives with their aptly titled “G-Pass.” An intangible, yet essential guide that allows Hector and Josh to give others access to neighborhoods and areas that they otherwise wouldn’t run through on their own.

It’s also a collective insurance, especially for runners of color who face discrimination and profiling when running.

Last year, the rest of the world bore witness to what that looks like following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while on a routine run in South Georgia. His killers were a white father and son who falsely accused him of burglarizing a home while on his jog. Arbery sadly ran for 2.23 more miles after being shot before succumbing to his wounds.

“When we first started we used to get pulled over by the police all the time,” says Josh. “Running in black hoodies and black shorts.”

“That could have been one of us,” says Hector, remarking on the fact that many runners often run early in the morning or at night.

He goes on to note the feeling of fear that he would have when training for a marathon, pairing it with the clear fear he would see on other pedestrians’ faces as he ran past.

“Running Uptown at 3 a.m. isn’t the same as running on the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, or Tribeca at 3 a.m.,” he adds. “There’s a different level of fear because of where we live.”

Be that as it may, flaws within the social ecosystem aren’t enough to deter Hector or Josh from the legacy that they’re working to build through WRU. To give in wouldn’t be very characteristic of Uptown — the clear birthplace of hip hop and the subsequent industries that it’s influenced along the way.

“I want this to be one of those trends that are set,” adds Hector. “Health and fitness — making this a lifestyle, not a regimen.”

Sign up for the newsletter Join the revolution.

Get REVOLT updates weekly so you don’t miss a thing.