Black Men Run Pushes Men to Live their Healthiest Lives,
One Run at a Time
by Janna M Hall
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans. That number becomes even more staggering amongst African American men, with over 44% of Black men 20 years and older living with some form of cardiovascular disease. That fact remains consistent across state lines; in Virginia, African American males’ odds of living with or dying from a heart-related illness are just as high, also ranking as the number one cause of death on a local level.
Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t the only health danger African Americans face. Black men and women are twice as likely to have a stroke than whites, and of the 68% of overweight or obese Americans age 20 and older, an estimated 68.7% of them are African American men. Knowing this, how can the disturbing trend be stopped? The future of young black boys relies heavily on the presence of the strong, healthy black men in their lives, so it’s imperative that African American men ensure they have the healthy bodies—and healthy hearts—needed to live long and fruitful lives.
Perhaps this is what makes Black Men Run such an exceptional organization. Founded only three years ago in Atlanta, Georgia by Edward Walton and Jason Russell, Black Men Run keeps the goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle among African American men at the forefront of their mission. Since its founding, the organization has expanded to 54 cities, including a chapter of over 140 men here in Richmond, VA. At the highest level, the organization is what its Co-Founder Edward Walton considers a “healthy brotherhood.” Regardless of their skill level, its members, or “supporters” as they’re called, dedicate their time, bodies, and sweat to building a network of men who, together, dispel myths and fight the diseases plaguing the black community.
On a more granular level, Walton and Russell founded Black Men Run so that African American men who lack outlets to get physically fit would have a reason and a way to get off the couch and take control of their health.
“The news that African American men are disproportionately affected by preventable diseases is underreported and people don’t take it seriously,” says Walton, Black Men Run’s Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer. “That ranges from chronic obesity to diabetes and to other diseases that affect us as a demographic more acutely than our counterparts.”
To fight against the numbers, Walton and Russell ensure that no man is left behind. Membership is free in every chapter across the country, establishing what they call true affordable health care. “It’s very affordable to put shoes on your feet and go outside to what God has given you, versus paying $25 a month to go to the gym,” Walton says. The founders and Leadership team believe that true brotherhood is extending the healthy brotherhood to every man, not making him pay for taking control of his health.
It’s this brotherhood that has drawn anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 runners during its first three years in cities across the United States and beyond. Since its founding in 2013, Black Men Run has expanded to 54 chapters in cities spanning from Atlanta, Georgia to Sacramento, California, and has expanded internationally to Paris and London. And with a large community of runners in Richmond, VA, it’s no surprise that the movement has expanded to the Commonwealth, inspiring countless black male runners in Richmond and the surrounding areas to attend dozens of races including the Monument 10K and the Richmond Marathon, wearing their Black Men Run T-shirts proudly.
The organization was founded on three tenets: Moderation, Accountability, and Consistency. And those pillars, while they govern the organization, are key ideals that continue to help Black men get on the path to a healthier life.
“The key is to have moderation in all you do,” explains Walton. “Doing anything in excess is not good for you. It’s possible to exercise too much.”
Accountability is also key in maintaining relationships, both with yourself, as a runner who evolves, but also as a team player. “You’re not only accountable for going out and taking care of yourself. If someone’s dependent on you, you’re accountable for them. When you don’t make your run with your [running] partner and they’re looking for you, and as a result they end up quitting, you’ve let someone down.”
It’s consistency that has men running in 95-degree weather in the summer and 10-degree weather in January, and it’s the right type of consistency Walton values. “Consistency is the key to building good habits and bad habits,” he says. “Building bad habits means you did it consistently for a while. The key is to build good habits that make you the best runner that you can be.”
What’s so remarkable about this organization is that “the best runner you can be” varies from member to member. Its diversity is what makes it a haven for all men who want to make their fitness a priority and take control of their health. Black Men Run is comprised of men who are beginners in every sense of the word, stopping every 100 meters to catch their breath. In that same chapter, you may find a marathoner who’s competed at the Olympic level. With everyone from garbage men to astrophysicists, Black Men Run prove that socioeconomic status, religion, nor political affiliation factor into what makes a man a perfect member. What every chapter, from Richmond, VA to Denver, CO seeks are members who are dedicated to dispelling the myth that African American men don’t run distance.
“I’ve been running for over 25 years,” says Walton, also the CMO (Chief Motivation Officer). “I’ve seen numerous African Americans [out running], and the most you could get was a head nod. Black Men Run is a way to tell fellow runners that when you see this [Black Men Run] shirt, you have a brother and a friend.”
True brotherhood, friendship, and a sense of community are what has caused this organization to grow at the rapid pace in just three short years. It’s more than just a running club—it’s a social network of influence. They’re comprised of professionals at every level who look out for each other and provide counsel and connections when needed. If you need legal advice, rest assured there’s a lawyer somewhere in the organization who is willing to help. If you need IT support, they’re there, too. Black Men Run’s strength is the diversity in background experience, all coming together for one single goal.
A testament to its diversity and impact on the community is how fast it’s grown with no professional marketing help. Their growth has been strictly grassroots and word of mouth. With a little help from social media, they’ve expanded their reach from Grant Park in Atlanta, Georgia to a small town in Iowa. That impact is even greater in large cities like New York and Chicago. What was initially met with doubt and resistance from both black and white America now earns acknowledgement, respect, and admiration. Even celebrities like Kevin Hart have jumped on the Black Men Run train, showing his support during his “Spontaneous 5K” held in Atlanta in 2015.
Black Men Run is for every man. The Richmond, VA chapter, like each chapter nationwide, encourages every black man to join the “Healthy Brotherhood.” Because they don’t charge to join, Black Men Run doesn’t have what many consider “official members.” What they have are men who will come out, respect their tenets, and dedicate themselves. They’re in the business of motivating men to live their healthiest lives by challenging themselves, and beating heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, and they don’t believe in spreading the message that you must spend money to do so.
Photos contributed by Black Men Run.