Black girls do a lot of things—teach, lead, set trends, glow effortlessly—but distance running is one thing that is pretty much unheard of. A group called Black Girls RUN! has sought to break that stigma and the cycle of obesity in the Black community.
In 2006, sorority sisters and college friends Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks-Rocha began running together as a means to stay fit post undergrad at Middle Tennessee State University. Once the two began hitting the pavement, they noticed very few people of color and even fewer Black women. Road races were often unwelcoming situations for Carey and Hicks-Rocha. In addition, friends and family were skeptical. “In our community, distance running is not widely accepted as a way to work out…you just don’t see [African Americans] running long distance,” Carey told SELF magazine. “The majority of my friends who did run were sprinters or hurdlers, so I feel like early on, you’re taught this is your lane.”
2009 was the year that the duo decided it was time to pick up the pace, and show the general public that Black women DO indeed run. They began blogging about their experiences under the title “Black Girls RUN!” and the movement took off.
BGR! tapped into the blogosphere at a time where people were still recovering from the recession, and Black women began embracing their kinks and curls on a wider scale. “You could have spent all day in a salon getting your hair done, so just going to sweat it out was not ideal,” Hicks-Rocha told SELF. “When you wear your hair naturally, you don’t have to worry about it. It’s liberating.” A free way to workout without ruining your hair? Black Girls RUN! was a godsend to many, and destined for success.
Today, BGR! has over 120,000 members amongst 73 running groups, a podcast, merchandise, and training programs. Social media wise, they have a following of over 55k on Twitter and Instagram combined and 197,000 likes on Facebook. Black Girls RUN! has even inspired Black Men Run, a group founded in 2013.
Aside from creating a space for women and runners of color, a major focus of BGR! is to promote healthier lifestyles in the Black community. 56.9 percent of Black women over the age of 20 are obese and 37 percent of Black men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity holds a domino effect, increasing a person’s chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. With Blacks being the group most affected by obesity, Black Girls RUN! is helping to lengthen the life span of our current and future generations.