Community Spotlight: Jessi Baron & DJ Ki

Community Spotlight: Jessi Baron & DJ Ki

Jessi Baron and DJ Ki are not only athletes, they are community builders. Founders of Queer Run Club - Los Angeles, they have created a safe space for queer folks, accessible to those of all skill levels. I talk to Jessi and DJ about their inspiration to create this community, the importance of queer spaces, and their favorite pieces from our new Shoreline Collection.

Get to know these two wonderful humans, making a difference here in LA.

Tell us about yourselves:

Jessi: My name is Jessi (she/her) and I’m a high school special education teacher and current Public Policy graduate student at UCLA. I am very passionate about accessible, equitable, and inclusive educational spaces. I am also dedicated to promoting safe and inclusive spaces for queer youth, both within and outside of educational spaces. My passion for creating safe, queer spaces is what led me to create Queer Run Club! 

I am originally from Paris, France, and grew up in a mixed Tunisian, French, and American household. As such, I am also passionate about ensuring spaces are culturally sensitive and empowering, and simultaneously use resources to empower queer people of color. 

DJ: My name is Dj Ki (they/them). I am 28 years, born and raised in Southern California, and I'm very happy to call LA my home. I've been steadily overcoming imposter syndrome and becoming more confident with identifying as 1) an athlete and 2) a community organizer. 

(Photo Credit: Shruthi Jasti)

What inspired you to start the Queer Run Club in Los Angeles?

Jess: Over the past two years, I’ve become really involved in queer sports throughout Los Angeles (kickball, soccer, basketball, etc.). Having access to these sports created a sense of community and belonging that I had never had before. For this reason, I wanted to add to the array of existing queer sports, by creating a space for queer runners. I had never found a queer running group that made running accessible for runners of all skill levels, while simultaneously creating a social and community space. That was my goal with QRC: empowering runners of all skill levels to feel safe running, while also finding a sense of queer community and belonging. 

DJ: Like most runners, I was a self-proclaimed running hater. I despised it, mainly because I was always running in pain and secondly because I had an unhealthy relationship with running (as a byproduct of ED) growing up. My sport was boxing and I loved it, but when the world locked down early 2020, people really had no choice but to run, walk, or bike. I didn't have a bike, and I needed something more intense than walking, so I decided to take running seriously. I read a ton of running literature and for months, I practiced and learned how to run properly. Fast forward 6 months later, I'm running pain-free and have thoroughly fallen in love with this sport.

It has irrevocably changed my life - the way I perceive myself and the world around me, the way I believe in myself and the world around me. I knew I had found something incredibly powerful and profound in movement and I wanted to be able to share this experience with others. I get asked quite frequently how I am able to "run so much"; that they are interested in running but find it so hard and/or painful. My journey with running (from being unable to run 1 mile nonstop to now running 60 miles a week casually) should be a testament that anyone and everyone can run, that people may need just a bit of guidance and support. This was the motivation for me to start Queer Run Club. 

How important is it to have safe, queer spaces like QRC?

Jess: I believe that the importance of safe, queer spaces such as QRC cannot be understated. We live in a world where queerness is so politicized, and where those in positions of power consistently create/uphold homophobic and transphobic systems and institutions. At the same time, many of us have experienced so much trauma surrounding our queer identities throughout our lives. As such, there is such a need for queer, healing spaces that celebrate our identities while offering comfort, community, and safety. For me, having access to these safe, queer spaces helped me find queer community and a sense of belonging. This has been so significant in my own personal healing journey, as it normalized, empowered, and celebrated my identity in ways that I had never really experienced before. Furthermore, having access to safe, queer spaces allows queer folks to access safety and support while living in a world that continues to villianize and ostracize us.  

DJ: Community is a pillar of mental & physical health. Without community, it's nearly impossible to find a sense of self. I felt very disconnected to this city until I found community. A great way to find a sense of belonging is joining a sports club. It's kind of twofold - there's a community aspect and there's a wellness aspect, both so incredibly important to mental and physical wellbeing. Sports belong to EVERYONE. Everyone should have the opportunity to organically develop an interest in sports. That's why we're here. Most folks that come don't consider themselves "runners". In fact, that conditional statement "....but I'm not runner" is the thing Jessi and I hear most. And that's totally okay, because we want this space to be as friendly, accessible, and welcoming to people of all skill levels. You're not a runner? Cool, come anyway to walk, jog, or just socialize! Funny thing is, a lot of people that have been with us from the start, who came as "non-runners" are now "runner-runners". 

(Photo Credit: Shruthi Jasti)

When do you feel like your most authentic selves?

Jessi: I feel like my most authentic self when I am doing what I’m passionate about: supporting and empowering youth through a quality education. Teaching youth allows me to create the systems I am so passionate about, while simultaneously supporting queer youth at school (a place where, historically and currently, many queer youth have not felt safe in). 

DJ: We all know it's quite common for queer people to rediscover themselves in adulthood and I find that I'm really in the throes of that right now. I feel like I'm returning to my roots, to the 5 year old version of me that didn't give a f*ck what people thought and was authentically and unapologetically myself. After prohibiting myself any involvement in sports throughout my pubescent and young adult years because I was shamed and ostracized for being too masculine as a child, I've really leaned into my love of sports again. The person who I am today is my most authentic self.

Favorite piece from our new Shoreline Collection?

Jessi: My favorite piece from the Shoreline Collection is the Anywhere Short! They are very comfortable and flattering across all gender identities and body types. These shorts are really versatile, I can run, play sports, workout, etc., in them, while remaining comfortable to wear! I also love how these shorts are flattering for all body types.

DJ: My favorite piece is the Tech Shirt. The thickness is great - not too thin and not too thick and very breathable, just in time for the summer! I also really dig the cut of the tee.


Follow Queer Run Club on Instagram.

Shop the new Shoreline Collection.