My interest is in documentation. The mixed blessing and curse of nostalgia was passed on to me and influences the way I move through the world, simultaneously enjoying the moment and wanting to preserve it forever. As a documentarian I have always been in some shape or form a portraitist. Documenting the people in my life has taken on many forms, sometimes through writing, often through photographs and in drawings and mixed media. While I value the product, I am most often more absorbed in the process and the story telling aspect of creation.
I grew up the oldest of eight children in Cleveland first and then rural Ohio. As a child, I would sit in my grandparents’ basement and flip through my grandfather’s National Geographic collection. Some time around age thirteen, much to my parents’ dismay I snuck a year subscription to Elle magazine. These were my early connections to the world outside. I loved the idea of the stories that these images told and my fantasies of running away probably started around then. I love to explore whether its near or far, and I always love a good story.
Jessie has been practicing art therapy with teenagers in the public school system as well as court involved youth and young adults for almost fourteen years in New York City. Her early career began as a teaching artist with youth living in group homes, detention and residential treatment settings in Detroit. Jessie has a specific interest in helping youth engage with themselves and the community through art making. She is an internship supervisor for NYU in the Master of Arts Art Therapy program and has lectured locally, nationally and internationally on her work with youth and art therapy.
Dubbed “the first lady of running” by Charlie Dark (Run Dem Crew London), Jessie was an early member of the New York City based running group the Bridgerunners. Jessie’s work as a member, leader and pacer with Bridgerunners over close to a seven year span led her to help create a space for women and new runners in New York City’s emerging “urban running” community. Sometimes in front of the camera as an influencer but most often behind the scenes, Jessie has been actively involved in NYC since 2005 and has been dedicated to creating unique running experiences. She’s traveled nationally and internationally through running and has primarily focused on the community building aspect that running can provide.
In early 2012 as part of the leadership team in Bridgerunners, Jessie collaborated with Run Dem Crew (London), NBRO (Copenhagen), Paris RC (Paris), PATTA (Amsterdam), and the late Graviteam (Berlin) to produce the first meeting of global running crews, which became known as “Bridge The Gap.”
In that same year, Jessie created and produced a training program for a team of women from the Bridgerunners for the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. As the fitness level and excitement of racing for many of the women of Bridgerunners increased, Jessie believed that there was a need for focused training in order for the team to take on the SF marathon. This was the first time that group marathon training was implemented within the crew and while the focus was on providing fun and interactive long runs for the women, it drew the attention and participation of many runners from the downtown running scene.
Jessie proposed that running long should and could be fun and believed that for many runners providing the external motivator of an interesting and culturally relevant destination or celebratory ending would increase participation and help new runners experience the benefits of running long. From this idea emerged the concept of Destination Long Runs which she trialed first as a long solo 20 mile run in 2011 in her inaugural “Run to Rockaway.” In that summer of 2012 training the women of Bridgerunners, many of the long runs were created in that format. One now well known destination run was produced in collaboration with the Orchard Street Runners (LES) and was documented by photographer David Jaewon Oh as “That One Sunday.”
The conceptual underpinnings of the training of the women of Bridgerunners also began a partnership between Jessie and Knox Robinson (Firstrun). At the close of 2012, during the Shanghai Marathon, Jessie and Knox announced that they would be starting the new project Black Roses NYC. Black Roses NYC was created as a curated urban running experience. They recruited for their first season by asking 25 runners (15 women and 10 men) to commit to a six-month season. In a contract signed by the original season one members, they documented that they were creating “a collective of individuals who valued a personal relationship with running in a group setting, connection and community-building with like-minded running crews globally and a dynamic relationship with the unique culture of New York City.” The Black Roses NYC mission included sharing the group training experience via social media as well as promoting the lifestyle and culture of running. Elevate Women’s Running was another key concept that Jessie introduced and hoped to promote through the focused training that the women and men of Black Roses shared. In the two years and four full training seasons since the inception of the group, over fifty members trained and raced under the Black Roses collective. Members raced as a group locally, nationally and internationally in everything from cross country races in Van Cortlandt Park, to ultra marathons on the Appalachian trail and unsanctioned road races such as The OSR Midnight Half Marathon. To say that group members trained successfully to race would be accurate. But members also raced in some cases to win, and have found amongst themselves personal bests, age group place-holders, Boston qualifiers and overall race winners. The goals to promote the lifestyle and culture of running while providing a cutting-edge training program for new and experienced runners were largely accomplished. The community that was created also had a major impact on running “crews” at large.
While The Black Roses NYC collective experienced a great deal of success as a group, Jessie’s mission to inspire new runners and Elevate Women’s Running has remained unwavering. In December 2014, she announced that she was leaving the leadership team of Black Roses to focus primarily on Women's Running and community building within the running community at large. Starting in January 2015 she began partnering with artists, restaurants, small businesses, individuals and community members to host a series of runs simply titled, "(Girls) Run with me." This quickly evolved into what is now GIRLS RUN NYC.
GIRLS RUN NYC began with a few simple pop-up style runs and by July of 2015 became a weekly Women's Only Track workout held each Wednesday at McCarren Park Track in Brooklyn. Jessie currently coaches Girls Run NYC, a collective of women who are from all walks of life, all backgrounds and with all levels of running experience and ability. Girls Run NYC is on Twitter and Instagram @girlsRUNnyc.
In addition to GIRLS RUN NYC, Jessie founded the Brooklyn-based Bkfastclub (@bkfastclub), and extremely informal running group in June 2013 with Ariel Roman and Anna Hieronymus and remains as the host to date.
To see what Jessie’s up to next keep watching @jessiezapo on IG & Twitter.