From the court to the track - How Lionel Brahim Brodie created Philly's most inclusive run club - PYNRS Performance Streetwear

From the court to the track - How Lionel Brahim Brodie created Philly's most inclusive run club

The founder of Original Propaganda Athletic Club talks basketball, kicks, why running is special to him, and the future of running culture.

Is there a right or wrong way to get into running? Is it possible to get into running for "the wrong reasons"? Judging by Brodie's running journey we'd say - absolutely not. 

From being introduced to running via "one too many vodka tonics", to founding his first running crew to land some great shoes - Brodie found running through non-traditional means, but went on to become a transformative figure for the running community and culture in Philadelphia. 

We sat down with the founder of Original Propaganda Athletic Club to discover more about the events, the people and the experiences that led him to where he is today. 

"I had delusions of playing high school basketball… but I started growing horizontally, not vertically"

Lionel Brahim Brodie the Third (aka “Brodie”) grew up in what he describes as a "normal urban area" in West Philadelphia. Relaxed, straight-talking and confident - you get the impression that Brodie regards most situations as "normal".

Brodie lived in Philly his whole life, working his way through middle school, high school and eventually college at Villanova University on the outskirts of the city. 

"Growing up in West Philly was crazy" muses Brodie. "All of the rappers of that time were from West Philly; Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Three Times Dope." 

Brodie experienced the "riff-raff, the people selling drugs'' that often come hand-in-hand with being raised in the inner city. Brodie’s mother and father, however, were both successful in their professions and he had a more comfortable upbringing than many of his peers. 

"I relate a lot to Kanye West in that, I grew up in the city, but I could never be a 'gangsta rapper' - I went to Catholic school my whole life! I could never say that 'I grew up without X, Y or Z' - I had a Nintendo, and stuff like that."

Having been used to being the tallest kid in class through middle school - he was 5'10 even in 8th grade - Brodie had aspirations of playing High School Basketball. However his dreams were, quite literally, just out of reach. 

"I started growing horizontally and not vertically!", laughs Brodie. "Previously, I was the big kid on the post, I never needed to learn how to dribble. Then I get to high school and there’s two kids at 6'7!"

"I thought, I'm going to get a job - somebody’s gotta pay for these kicks!".

After high school, Brodie went to college at Villanova ("Nova") University, where basketball and sports didn’t form a huge part of his life anymore. However his love for sneakers and sports gear - something that is evident throughout our discussion - remained. Before long, this passion led Brodie back to Basketball, and eventually on to running. 

"We were gunning for Nike - it was a moonshot, but at the time we thought we could take them"

In his senior year at Nova, Brodie took a sports marketing class where the professor organized guest speakers each week. Through one of these guest speakers, Brodie landed an internship at AND1 basketball - right at the point where AND1 was making waves in an industry dominated by giants like Nike and Adidas.

"I was there from 2001-2005," recalls Brodie. "During that time we were gunning for Nike. We knew it was a moonshot, but we thought we could take them because we were just focused on basketball." 

"We had this great stretch - there was Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury all winning in AND1's. Then we had the mixtape tour."

A huge deal back in the early 2000s, the AND1 Mixtape Tour put a spotlight on streetball players. The AND1 team travelled from place to place, taking on local streetball players in games which were packed with acrobatics, dribbling moves and slam dunks. The exposure helped AND1 to become a serious player in the market.

We had run for almost three years when we were legit," says Brodie. "Then, Retro Jordans came out and things began to dip. Other brands started going back through their catalogue and bringing out retro shoes - we just didn't have that history. Everybody was wearing throwbacks - so we tried to make things that looked retro, but the streets weren't buying it." 

Eventually AND1 was brought out. Brodie and many others were forced to re-interview for their jobs - and were ultimately laid off. After a brief stint working at a tire company, Brodie found his way back to Nova - which is where he found running for the first time." 

"The bartender was over-serving us vodka tonics - and I’m a Leo, I’m competitive"

Brodie went back to Nova to become the Director of Equipment for all the Nova athletic teams. There, he worked closely with Nike to design sports equipment and make sure all the teams were outfitted with clothes and accessories. The role fulfilled Brodie's passion for both sports gear and the sports themselves - especially basketball. 

"I was there for ten years, and it was a glorious 10 years," says Brodie. "National championship wins for basketball, football, cross-country. It was my dream job at the time."

And then came the trip to Georgetown. 

Brodie was in Georgetown with the women’s basketball team, staying at the Keybridge Marriott. He sat at the bar one evening with the trainer for women's basketball, herself a keen runner with multiple marathons under her belt. 

 "The bartender was over-serving us vodka tonics", recalls Brodie. "In this vodka haze, and with me being a Leo and being super competitive, I said 'I'm gonna go for a run with you tomorrow. Just wake me up. Let's get 2 miles in'". 

"I thought she was going to forget about it," admits Brodie. "And that was when I first learnt that runners don’t mess around when it comes to running. When we said the run was on, the run was on. She showed up to my room the next morning at 7am." 

"I was in charge of equipment, so I couldn’t even pretend I didn't have the gear!" 

Together they ran through a freezing cold DC morning. Brodie ran just under 5km for the first time, out and back from the hotel - and never looked back. 

"That euphoria set in, it felt like the greatest athletic achievement I had ever accomplished. After that day I knew, running was my athletic platform from now on". 

"I started Villanova Run Crew... I didn't know what I was doing"

Brodie continued to run regularly after that, but it was another trip, this time to New York, where Brodie became inspired to start a running crew. Still collaborating with Nike in his role at Nova, Brodie read about NYC BridgeRunners in a magazine while on a visit to Nike's lab store at 12 Mercer St.

"I thought it looked so dope," Brodie admits. "And shortly after that, I saw Run Dem Crew on either Sneaker Files or Sneaker News. I read that Run Dem Crew had this custom Nike FreeRun 2 made and I thought - if you run, you get all this stuff?!"

"We're starting a running crew today". 

So Brodie went back to Nova and started the Villanova Run Crew. He admits he "didn't know what I was doing" - but took it seriously, especially when it came to gear, which Brodie still has kicking around his home today. 

Brodie also started learning more about what BridgeRunners and Run Dem Crew - two of the very first run crews - were doing with regard to building inclusive running communities: "That's what I wanted VRC to be". 

Around the same time, he signed up for his first half marathon, seeing for the first time the benefits of proper training and working to a plan geared toward an individual's own ability. 

This community focus and commitment to sustainable improvement would go on to underpin the core principles of his next running crew: Original Propaganda Athletic Club. 

"Imagine 100 people charging through a Friday night, Beats Pills blasting, a sea of humanity."

"My cousin and I started Original Propaganda as a clothing line," explains Brodie.  "It had nothing to do with athletics originally."

But a visit to New York, once again, changed everything. 

"We went through midtown and saw the New York Athletic Club," recalls Brodie.  "And I thought, damn, we need to start our own thing like that. We need to start Original Propaganda Athletic Club... we'll be Philly’s version. That was the muse, that was the goal". 

That was the very beginning of OPAC, which grew steadily over subsequent years as more members joined. But fast-forward to 2015, and a collaboration with the Nike Run Club (NRC) from New York supercharged the running movement in Philly. 

“NRC was at its apex,” explains Brodie. "Every week they would run a route that was off-the-beaten-path, something away from your Times Squares etc. They wanted to do something similar in Philly, and have a load of New Yorkers come down to run through the city - so they did!"

"We had Philly folk, Nike folk, New York folk - all running together. Imagine 100 people charging through a Friday night - in a neighbourhood which is all college kids, buttoned up shirts and loafers. Beats Pills blasting, a sea of humanity. It was pure disruption!"

"Running is super important as a Black person"

OPAC and community running in Philly existed before the NRC collaboration - but the event felt like a turning point for running culture in the city. For Brodie, it cemented the importance of growing and sustaining a truly inclusive running community. 

"I love running because you need it for every sport,” explains Brodie. “Everyone needs cardio - even cyclists run! But running is also super important as a Black person." 

"I sometimes forget that if I walk into Target, or the gym up the street, I'm not just a minority - I'm the only person of color in that establishment. To be a Black man running is great because it wasn’t a sport I ever thought I could be a part of. Growing up I didn't know Black runners - maybe I knew of Olympians, but you don't know Olympians."

"Where I grew up, you never saw people run for fun. So I never had a bad experience of running, I just knocked it before I tried it. But now I run for fun."

But for Brodie running is about much more than fun. "I love it because, with running, you've got to be super engaged in the process. You're chasing the sun in the winter, avoiding the sun in the summer, braving the cold in the evening. Running makes me push myself more than I ever had to push myself - mentally or physically - elsewhere in life."

"I liken the grassroots running community to the early days of hip hop"

Turning to the future of running, Brodie believes there are still barriers that need to be broken down within the running space. 

"Inclusive is one of those hot words. Like vibe or something. But inclusivity is super important - race, gender, size, physical ability. Running has given me a new set of friends that I wouldn't be talking to otherwise. It made me realize that I took going to college for granted, because now I speak to people who dropped out of school way before college. I even know people across the globe because of running."

Like ourselves, Brodie has a clear idea about the future of running: "There's a song by Outkast called Hollywood Divorce. At the end of it, Andre 3000 is talking about how all the cool things in our country - rock, blues, jazz - started out in Black communities before going mainstream. I think the next thing is running - when we take things over, we take it over." 

However, he is also wary of what can happen when a grassroots movement becomes big enough to attract the attention of big brands. 

"I liken the grassroots running community to the early days of hip hop. When I was a kid, everyone just used to rock with each other - everybody was in it for the love. Then brands came in and started different record labels, different endorsements - and people couldn't be cool with each other anymore."

"You want brands to take notice in grassroots initiatives like running - but it has to be authentic.”

"O.P.A.C. is for all faces and all paces - We're all Lebron."

Brodie's story is one of inspiration and inclusivity. Having been inspired by crews like BridgeRunners and Run Dem Crew - Brodie spread the power of running to his own community of runners, friends and "family" in Philadelphia. 

"OPAC is for all faces, all paces - and we really truly mean that," says Brodie. "Walk, jog, sprint , run - whatever! Every member of OPAC is part of our family. We're all Lebron."

Perhaps it's not somebody who he had ever planned on being - but there's no doubt that Brodie is a figurehead for Black running culture in the US. It's been a privilege to sit down with him and hear how OPAC came to be. 

Sidney Baptista is a coach, leader & activist who founded PIONEERS Run Crew in Boston. Lionel Brahim Brodie is the founder of Original Propaganda Athletic Club in Philadelphia.