When Black Men are Healthy, Our Nation is Healthy
Black men running through the streets of any given city can conjure up feelings of fear and looks of concern from unenlightened passersby. Why are Black men running? Who are they running from? — some onlookers may wonder, particularly in today’s racially-charged climate.
The better question is, what are Black men running to?
The answer is pretty clear: they’re running to sustain a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, to combat the stress of their professional and personal lives and to do everything within their power to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, high-blood pressure, diabetes and depression — all serious illnesses that plague African-American communities in staggering numbers.
Increasingly, African-American men are forming running and fitness groups in cities across the country in search of better health, weight loss and more control over how they navigate the world around them.
Black Men Run (BMR), founded in Atlanta by Jason Russell and Edward Walton in 2013, serves to encourage health and wellness among African-American men by promoting a culture of running to stay fit. BMR is the largest African-American male running club in the world with more than 6,000 members representing 50 U.S. cities. The organization uses technology to advance their mission of promoting a healthy brotherhood with an impressive app that tracks details of each run, and allows users to share run information with Facebook and Twitter followers, and listen to music, including HBCU radio stations and exclusive DJ mixes (BMR Radio).
In Chicago, a running group aptly named Men Run Deez Streets (MRDS) was formed in 2013 by 22-time marathon runner, Terrance Lyles, with the goal of inspiring and encouraging other men to begin living a healthy lifestyle. The group now has approximately 300 members who gain support every week through coaching sessions and training runs along Chicago’s lakefront.
“We started Men Run Deez Streets to get men passionate about running and fitness and fighting heart disease, obesity, strokes and diabetes,” says Lyles, a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) Certified Adult Long Distance Run Coach.
“We’ve got a great group of runners that are excited about running miles upon miles, losing weight, feeling good and running in the community so we’ll be seen as examples of health and fitness.”
Detroit-based entrepreneurs and fitness enthusiasts, Shawn Blanchard, Terrance Thompson and Armond Harris, co-founded Run This Town Detroit as a way to create, maintain and strengthen a community of professionals balancing their professional demands with leading a healthy, active lifestyle. The RTT fitness movement has been responsible for making Detroit a healthier, more active place, recording over 300 free fitness sessions since its start in May 2012.
“Starting a fitness company with two other Black men, Terrence and Armond, has had a powerful effect on our tribe,” Blanchard says. “The internal brotherhood forms camaraderie for our community.”
In addition to running, Black men are bringing the brotherhood into the gym where they do much more than get “swole” and spot for each other. Here, they check in with one another, sharing everything from nutrition advice to how to sidestep business and relationship landmines.
Tony Laurent, fitness trainer and owner of New York-based Muscle and Bone, works out with two other personal trainers, also African-American men, when he’s not training his own clients. “When the three of us meet, we hold each other accountable to show up and to be on time. Since making the healthy choice of adding the gym to our list of hangout spots, our gains compound even more quickly,” Laurent says.
“The social component of training with them is immeasurable because it offers the opportunity to discuss and counsel each other about work, family and other personal issues. Knowing that I’m not the only one going through a specific problem and that there is always a plausible solution is a huge relief.”
Images of Black men supporting and inspiring one another on city streets and in gyms and fitness centers across the country is visceral, powerful and worthy of praise. They are shining light in dark corners and demonstrating to their families and their communities that living a well-intentioned, healthy life is within reach for all Black men.
In Baltimore, Changa Bell, founder of the Black Male Yoga Initiative (BMYI), is changing the face of yoga, creating a space for African-American men to feel comfortable, vulnerable, and safely guided in holistic wellness practices. He observed many of the extenuating circumstances for disinterest and non-participation, specifically with Black men, and established a goal to “hang a sign” of inclusion that spoke from far away stating, You belong here too.
Bell sums up the ‘why’ behind Black men and fitness perfectly:
“We believe that health is not a right or a privilege, but it is our heritage and furthermore, when Black men are healthy, our nation is healthy.”