Breakfast with The Eagle: Eggs and a side of gratitude with Tariq Pinkston

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PITTSFIELD — Tariq Pinkston was already occupying a corner table at Dottie's Coffee Lounge when The Eagle arrived to have breakfast with him on Thursday morning. His attention was shifting between a Samsung tablet, a book (Ryan Holiday's "The Obstacle Is the Way") and some vanilla chai in a to-go cup in front of him. He looked like a person who fits a lot into his day and, maybe, somebody who doesn't spend a lot of it sitting down.

"I'm always on the go," the Pittsfield native said after ordering a Deconstructed Breakfast Sandwich #2 with two eggs over easy, a sausage patty and two pieces of buttered bread.

The 32-year-old is a full-time fitness trainer, shuttling between three gyms when he's not giving motivational talks to schools and other groups.

"The goal is to have my own gym at some point," he said.

A fitness trainer is the type of job where you'll become a familiar face in a hurry, but locals may also recognize him from his time hosting Star 101.7's (WBRK-FM) "Ride Ya Groove," a Friday night radio program that Pinkston live-streamed on his phone while hosting. Now, Pinkston has a new project that may make him even more identifiable: "XCell: For a Better Tomorrow," a Pittsfield Community Television show that involves Pinkston sitting down with members of the community for extended one-on-one interviews reminiscent of those he would conduct on WBRK. Thus far, four episodes have aired, typically appearing first on Mondays at 9:30 p.m. Teacher and hip-hop instructor Jamal Ahamad was the most recent guest.

"It's so important for people to be heard," said Pinkston, who parted ways with WBRK earlier this fall as a means to pursue some screen time.

Unlike many media interviews, "XCell" isn't driven by guests plugging upcoming events or projects. Its intrigue stems from Pinkston's interviewing style, which aims to both celebrate the interviewee and get them to think deeply about themselves.

"There's surface level, and then there's always something behind that," he said before offering an example: "'So I noticed you help the youth quite a bit, what made you go down this path? Was it a lack of love, or you had an abundance of love? Which one was it?'"

As a bullied introvert, Pinkston felt a lot of the former during his youth. He also became a bully himself.

"Hurt people hurt people, and I got tired of being hurt," he said.

It wasn't until he was 25, after years of inspirational reading and long looks into the mirror, that he rebuilt his self-confidence and desire to do good.

"I came into this world wanting to treat people good, and I think the majority of us do," he said.

Now, he uses empathy to reach students and other audiences for his inspiring speeches.

"I don't want anyone to feel like I felt. It's kind of like my gift back," said Pinkston, who raises three children — Avan, Amira and Zhi — with his girlfriend, Gisselle Melendez.

Daron Reynolds noticed Pinkston's mindset years later via some uplifting Facebook posts. The late host of "Ride Ya Groove" kept visiting Pinkston at his retail job, trying to get him to participate on the hip-hop program. Eventually, Pinkston agreed, and the two began having poignant chats on air.

"He set the foundation. He had a desire to uplift the city," Pinkston said of Reynolds.

After Reynolds died in a car crash in April 2017, Pinkston took over Reynolds' host role.

"You lose your friend, you go through pictures of your friend and you might get sad, or you'll hear a song, you might get sad. I had to go in there every week and sit in the same seat," Pinkston said.

Along with gaining strength through perseverance, Pinkston acquired even more confidence as he grew more experienced on "Ride Ya Groove."

"I'm more confident when speaking in public. I got to live out the dream of many people hearing me at once and to say something so positive," he said.

Pinkston is grateful for his time at the station.

"I'm so thankful because radio is fast-paced. It's music. It's a lot of times what's trending. I took it in a whole nother direction, and WBRK allowed me to," he said.

There's still some music in "XCell." Pinkston has been a lifelong lover of tunes. His father, Darryl, listened to a number of genres during Pinkston's youth, while his mother, Betty, tended to stick to rhythm-and-blues and jazz.

"The family trips, you could hear it all," he said.

There's also a healthy dose of gratitude during — and following — the program. After "XCell" filming sessions conclude, Pinkston said that guests always thank him.

"I'm like, 'You're welcome. Thank you. Thank you for being you,'" he said, "because I feel like that's the biggest compliment you can give somebody: thank you for being you."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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