Their enthusiasm was infectious. Who were these women?
“Black Girls Run! is a movement,” says Renisha James, an Ambassador for the Chicago Chapter. Started in 2009 in Atlanta by Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey, Black Girls Run! (BGR!) is supporting and empowering women to get fit, live healthier lives, develop a positive self image and be role models for other women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of African-American women are overweight. That puts them at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. This grass-roots effort, started by black women, is working to change those statistics.
Traditionally, running for fitness has trended toward Caucasians. Go to any 10K, and you will notice an absence of African Americans. As Renisha explains, black women haven’t seen others running so they don’t consider it an option. BGR! members are out in force running for fitness, training for a race, and enjoying the group dynamics. This presence is planting the seed that yes, black women do run.
The movement is spreading quickly. Chapters in 30 states and thousands of members are helping black women realize the benefits and ease of running to improve their health and change their lives. Facebook was instrumental in BGR!’s growth. Members plan group runs, talk training, discuss nutrition, organize groups to race together, and share tips for managing hair and getting the right shoes.
The BGR Chicago Chapter launched in 2011, and is up and running in nine different locations, including Evanston. Ambassadors like Renisha bring a face to the online efforts by leading local running sessions, posting group pictures, and supporting both new and experienced runners.
The BGR! website reaches out to members nationwide. On any given day, you can read member entries that detail a great run or about people that completed their first race. The newly enhanced website features “runavations” to inspire all.
For Ila Allen (pictured in yellow at the Race Against Hate) BGR! was just the thing she needed to change her life. At 55, as a busy professional working toward a Doctorate, Ila was overweight, diabetic and had high blood pressure. At the urging of her doctors, she committed to exercise. After searching online, she found BGR! and hasn’t looked back. Since joining in January, Ila has run several 5Ks, lost 20 pounds and is looking forward to the BGR! 10K in Atlanta this fall. Ila loves the group runs in Evanston where “everyone is a runner.” She encourages others to “take care of yourself just like you take care of others.”
After sharing my love of running with the Evanston group on Wednesday evening, I was convinced that the statistics will change as this movement continues to grow. Ila is excited for her next doctor’s visit, and knows she is part of that change.