Together We Move Podcast: Conversations with the Civil Rights Race Series and Black Girls RUN!

A woman runs alone across a bridge

Together We Move Podcast Episode 1

Podcast Hosts Ashley Arnold and Kate Schwartz host interview the One Million Miles for Justice Race Organizers, Raynard Lawler and Vergil Chames, as well as the CEO and Owner of Black Girls RUN!, Jay Ell Alexander.

The Audio Run is a companion to the 1 Million Miles for Justice Event. Listen while you walk, jog, run or cycle. You'll learn about the inspiration behind the event and how you can be a part of the movement that runs from June 15 to July 15.

VERGIL CHAMES: This agenda isn’t about this particular incident This is about future incidents as well. We can’t fix the past but we can create a landing pad for future generations so that things like this are eradicated.

JAY ELL ALEXANDER: I always say running can be an even playing field and a common denominator as we start bridging the gap between different races and walks of life. It will take every hand on deck to make sure we’re creating change. We welcome everyone. We’re in this fight together.

FLEET FEET HOSTS: Hello, everyone, and welcome to our very first audio run episode. I’m Ashley Arnold.

And I’m Kate Schwartz from Fleet Feet.

You’re listening to the first audio run of a four-part series that we’re creating over the next four weeks to coincide with the One Million Miles for Justice Event so that you can listen as you put your miles in.

If you’re listening around the time we’re releasing this, it’s June 2020. The One Million Miles For Justice virtual event started on June 15 and it runs until July 15, 2020. We highly encourage you to join, and you can jump in at any time during the event. The goal is for all participants collectively to cover one million miles throughout the month.

You can run, walk, cycle and move however you want. The cost to join is $25, and the idea is that you commit to at least 25 miles total for the month. If you want to do more, please do! You can donate a dollar per mile beyond that distance. The net race profits go to the NAACP, an organization that has been fighting for racial justice since 1940.

We’ll talk more about the One Million Miles for Justice event as well as Black Girls Run in this first episode. We interview the CEO and owner of BGR, Jay Ell Alexander.

ALEXANDER: My name is Jay Ell Alexander and I’m the CEO and owner of Black Girls Run

Black Girls Run (BGR) was founded in 2009 to address the growing obesity epidemic in the Black community. BGR has chapters across the country that support Black women in adopting a healthy lifestyle, primarily through running and walking. While BGR was founded for Black women, the organization and its members welcome participants of all races with resources, motivation, service opportunities and group runs.

We also interview race organizers, Raynard Lawler and Vergil Chames, who are also founding members of the Alabama-based Walk Jog Run Club.

RAYNARD LAWLER: My name is Raynard Lawler. I am one of the organizers for the Civil Rights Race Series, and Operations Director.

CHAMES: I am Vergil Chames, one of the event organizers for the Civil Rights Race Series and I am the Events Manager.

After the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed while running, the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 has taken on Black people, and the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Flloyd at the hands of the police, it has become more clear than ever that things have got to change.

It was these events that inspired longtime friends Raynard Lawler and Virgil Chames to create the One Million Miles for Justice event.

Raynard and Vergil founded The Civil Rights Race Series in 2018. They had already established their Alabama-based Walk Jog Run club to promote healthy living. But they wanted to expand their impact beyond hosting a basic 5K run.

So, they developed road races in historic areas where significant civil rights events occurred. Their first event was a 51-mile relay from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, on the path of the historic march for voting rights led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965.

The Civil Rights Race Series events were created around the three pillars of health, education and economic development.

CHAMES: As we talk about the CRRS and its evolution, we developed three pillars that we stand on. The first one is education. As we go into each community we want our running, cycling community to understand the impact of that community. We want to tell the story of what happened there. We’ll identify museums, historic trails, monuments in those areas. And we invite a participant from that area to come to the event and speak about what they witnessed, what they experienced.

The second thing is we espouse fitness. We are cyclists, runners. We’re advocating for a healthy lifestyle.

Third is economic development. In each of the communities we try to give back to those communities.

SCHWARTZ: What, in your mind, would really make this event as successful as you want it to be?

CHAMES: From my perspective, getting a large diverse group of people to participate. It reminds me of an African proverb: I am that I am because of who we all are. Meaning, an individual can't grow any larger than what the collective allows that individual to become. And so if we’re able to bring a diverse group of people together; if we can amplify this message to all communities. These are difficult times. Difficult conversations are occurring. If the communities can come together to show there is a way to collect funds, develop a community to develop an agenda to move us forward, then I think we have done a great service to humanity. Because, this agenda isn’t just about this particular incident. This is about future incidents as well. We can’t fix the past but we can create a landing pad for future generations so that things like this are eradicated. And together we amplify that message get the word out, bring the community together and talk about our differences and how we can resolve those things.

ALEXANDER: Over the last few weeks, I’d say the last month or so, especially the death of Ahmad Arbery started to raise eyebrows. Especially because he was murdered while out running. Bigotry started peeling back its layers. But the running community really started showing solidarity behind his death. People started coming together in the running industry to run on his birthday. A lot of running organizations started reaching out, saying we’ve never said anything about this but because he was killed doing something we all love to do, we feel like we need to say something. And then things continued to unravel with Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd. Then, people started to do more than just raise eyebrows. They started to say, now we realize there are some real problems happening in our community. We’ve been too complacent and too silent for too long. Now, conversations look a lot different. It’s not, Jay Ell, I’m sorry to hear about this going on in your community. Let’s do a one-off run.

Now it’s how can we work together? We definitely admit we haven’t been the best at being inclusive in our organization, how can we create some sustainable relationships, impactful change.

Now it’s let’s have coffee, let’s break out some pens, papers, create a plan, do follow-up, and check ins. Let’s put things in place that will start showing we want to make a difference.

ARNOLD: And, do you think the momentum will carry? Do you have this feeling about why it will, if you think that it will?

ALEXANDER: Yeah, have to say I teeter the fence. We’re an ADD community when something is a hot topic in the media. How the pandemic shifted into this social activism. Now people forget there’s still a virus out there. Sometimes unfortunately as a human people we sway with the wind. Media dictates what we focus on. It can be disheartening but I think it feels different. People are stepping up to say this is wrong now. There’s been a lot of change happening quickly in the last couple of weeks. I think it’s a different type of shift, so it feels a lot more hopeful.

CHAMES: You know, Everyone is thinking, how can I be of assistance? I’m not a marcher. Will i be received in my community if I do this, this or this? This is a way for you to do it.

We’re saying If you can walk, run, crawl, ride a bike if you just take a few steps in your house you can take part in this event. We’re educating folks because through the advocacy of the NAACP we’re saying this is what you can do from home.

And then our economic impact is through the collective. We don’t think this is going to go away in the next thirty days. We have to create this movement, this community that feeds longterm into that resolution.

ARNOLD: When we were thinking about this first audio run and what should we talk about, I kept going back to the Coronavirus and disproportionately affecting Black populations. You know, it was like this decisive moment. It’s like this is this big soup. Look at police brutality, it’s one thing we can focus on. It’s one ingredient.

ALEXANDER: It’s a lot of different layers to it. And so, we look at Covid 19. Even before that, the mission behind Black Girls Run and WJR Club is we want to use physical activity to get communities healthier. We want to get our communities healthier because there are different things where we don’t have access to grocery stores or walkable streets and sidewalks for people to go running or not safe communities to go out your front door to go running. And there are other cultural things too, or access to healthcare. I heard someone talking last week. Black people top of rates for having Covid-19. But they’re also the highest demographic for essential workers. So, they’re helping but not receiving the help. That’s tough.

CHAMES: As an international platform now that we’re creating with this One Million Miles for Justice, we want to advocate for the healthy lifestyle. Some of the communities based on socio economics of that community, people don’t prioritize health. It’s survival. When you’re in a food desert and don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re not thinking I’m going to run a 5K today. I’m going to eat this really well- balanced meal today. It’s about survival.

But we all understand that there is a correlation between health and wellness and longevity. And COVID is bringing that situation really to bare. People are recognizing that the underlying conditions are bringing peril to folk and specifically folks of color. Because the wellness piece is not an essential component of living. Living is survival. And so, if we can bring together this international community of run clubs, health and wellness organizations and individuals and we talk about healthy living in this time of social injustice, in this time of COVID, then we’re doing our part. And so our platform should be that conduit moving forward. Not just for social advocacy but for the advocacy of health and wellness. We need to eat right, but we need to exercise and you don’t need to go out and run a full marathon to be healthy. You just need to get out and walk daily. That's an essential component to extend this thing called life.

we need to come together as a community to advocate for social justice. If that social justice happens to be we need markets in the inner city. We need to reduce sugars in the diets of our kids in elementary, middle school and high school. Then this community can be the best. You know, because this is a Multicultural community and the reach can be the pivot point for all of this. And so, if we do that, we’ve done the greatest good we can do at our age as race organizers, as race directors. We’ve done the best can can do if we bring all of these organizations together, and they haven’t always played well in the sandbox together; start these types of dialogues and they create interest groups that go out and talk about these things, then we’ve done our greatest good. Because these brands are sometimes so disconnected from the communities they service they don’t know what it is to be socially responsible as a corporation. If this community is the conduit for that because this community has the capacity to purchase and to talk and to advocate for those who are less fortunate then we’ve done our piece.

ALEXANDER: I always say that running can be an even playing field, it can be a common denominator as we start bridging the gap between different races and walks of life. Our community is definitely very welcoming. Especially in time we’re in now. I invite anyone out that’s non-Black to come out and join for a run. That's when you start branching over going out of your comfort zone. Those awkward conversations and those things that may not be the easiest things to do, that’s when we make an impact. Figure out where BGR links up, lace your shoes up and get ready to run with us.

ARNOLD: There will be people who respond, oh we shouldn’t talk about race. There’s a Black Girls Run, shouldn’t there be a white girls run?

ALEXANDER: We get that all the time. Why is it Black Lives Matter not all lives matter? If it was all lives matter we wouldn’t have to say Black lives matter. We’re not putting one over the other. We’re saying both are important but one needs to be elevated a bit more because it’s been siloed out for so long. We’re not creating a segment and not being racist within our community. No, when people look and understand our mission we’re bringing light to the stats that are killing our community. If we don't talk about it and create an organization that rallies to change it, we won’t have to say Black Girls Run anything because we won’t be in existence to do that. Again, the running industry, it’s already white girls run. It’s already all girls run. We have Black Girls Run because we’re trying to increase that representation. I don’t care if you’re blue, green, purple or yellow, come out and run with us. We see now in the social atmosphere it’s going to take every hand on deck to make sure that we’re creating change. So, We welcome everyone out there with us to make sure that we’re in this fight together.

Keep Reading