Together We Move Podcast: Health is a Civil Right

KATE SCHWARTZ (HOST): If you’re a runner, think about what it feels like to be injured.

ASHLEY ARNOLD (HOST): It’s likely that just one part of your body can’t bear weight, or is tender to the touch.

SCHWARTZ: But if, say, your foot really hurts, even if the rest of your body is fine, you can’t run.

ARNOLD: When you’re in pain, it’s difficult to think about anything else. But the solution isn’t always straight forward, or easy to find. While you feel the pain in your foot, the source of the problem often comes from somewhere else. Maybe your calf is too tight. Your glutes aren’t firing properly. The larger muscles that ought to absorb the impact sometimes don’t do their job. Think of our country like an injured runner.

SCHWARTZ: Our larger systems of policy and government don’t protect all people equally. Black Americans are targeted, jailed unjustly, killed for minor crimes or for no reason at all. They are crying out in pain, and they are not the problem.

ARNOLD: I’m Ashley Arnold

SCHWARTZ: And I’m Kate Schwartz. This is our fourth and final episode of the audio series to accompany the One Million Miles for Justice Virtual Event.

ARNOLD: And if you’re listening when it comes out, there is still time to participate. The event concludes on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 and you can sign up to get in 25 miles until the final day. Even if you don’t have time to complete all of your miles, we invite you to join this community.

SCHWARTZ: The cost to sign up is $25. The proceeds go to NAACP, which works toward important policy changes that are desperately needed in the areas of civic engagement, criminal justice, health equity, economic opportunity and more.

ARNOLD: When we want to heal an injury, we have to pay attention to the symptoms. What is our body telling us? Similarly, when a group of people tells us they are hurting, we need to listen. What are they telling us? What do they need? As you listen to this podcast today, think about listening for something you may not have heard before.

SCHWARTZ: First, our conversation with Raynard Lawler and Virgil Chames, race directors for the One Million Miles for Justice Event.

VIRGIL 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 you don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, you aren’t really 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. Because we have to start walking. You can survive if you take on a healthy lifestyle. 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. If you just get out and walk daily. That is an essential component to extend this thing called life.

We also talked to Jay Ell Alexander, owner and CEO of Black Girls Run. She talked about the mission of BGR and their role today, and why they need to exist in the first place.

JAY ELL ALEXANDER: You know, we look at covid 19. Well, even before COVID-19 was introduced or however you want to articulate it, the mission behind Black Girls RUN! and WJR Club is that we want to use physical activity to get our communities healthier. Well, we need to get our communities healthier because there are different things where we don’t have access to grocery stores or we don’t have walkable streets and sidewalks for people to go out running or they just aren’t safe communities where you just can’t go out your front door to go walking or running. And there are other cultural things too, or like access to healthcare. I heard Black people are at the top of rates for having Covid-19. But they’re also at the top of the charts for the highest demographic for essential workers. So, they’re helping but they’re also not receiving the help. So I was like, ah, that’s tough.

So, even with COVID-19, even though this is a new virus, that term, pre-existing conditions, Black people, we have a lot of pre-existing conditions, whether it’s high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease or respiratory issues. It’s kind of like this never ending cycle. OK, how do we break the cycle? Whether we’re talking about ending racism and how we do that, but then how do we break it down? Where you can put a farmers market or grocery store in a lower socioeconomic area. Or calling your public utilities and it not taking four weeks to get a pothole fixed or to get a sidewalk fixed. It’s those different type of things. Conversations that have to happen and it can’t happen in a bubble. It has to be each one of those different players sitting at the table to make things happen.

Mosaic image with One Million Miles for Justice logo

ARNOLD: And that’s part of the hope for this podcast. To take those conversations out of the bubble. To reach folks who may not understand the depth of the inequalities in this country.

SCHWARTZ: Sometimes it’s hard to understand how bad a problem is if you don’t face it yourself. It’s important to tune into the stories and the research to gain that understanding.

Dr. David R. Williams is a professor of public health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard. He has been studying racial bias and its effect on health for 25 years.

ARNOLD: Williams explains that COVID-19 isn’t creating disparities between races, but rather shining a light on inequality that has existed for a long time. But, more on his work in a moment.

First, let’s talk about an article that was published by the New York Times on July 5. It’s the most comprehensive report to date on the racial inequity from the coronavirus.

The newest numbers now show that Black and Latino residents have been three times more likely to become infected with the coronavirus than White people, and twice as likely to die from it.

SCHWARTZ: Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected all over the country, not just in certain areas, regardless of whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas.

Why is this the case?

ARNOLD: According to Williams’s article on racial bias in health care, the root of health disparities begins with economic disparities.

Williams says that for every household dollar earned by White people, Black people earn 59 cents.

SCHWARTZ: In Williams’s article he says that low socio-economic status is a major cause of psychosocial stress. Chronic stress causes major health problems like high blood pressure, and stress is linked to poor sleep and unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse. It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

When it comes to existing conditions of stress, obesity, diabetes or heart disease, running and walking, or any kind of regular movement is so good for our physical and mental health. According to a 2014 study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a regular routine of running just 50 minutes per week, or five to 10 minutes per day can cause a 30 percent drop in mortality risk and add three years to your lifespan. It helps to maintain a healthy heart, a healthy weight, and lower our chance of having those pre-existing conditions that make life harder. And make you more susceptible to the coronavirus as well as other diseases. You don’t have to become a marathoner. As opposed to a sedentary lifestyle, just moving more does wonders for your health.

More on these ideas from Faith Morris, Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer at the National Civil Rights Museum.

MORRIS: Fitness and justice. Fitness and civil rights. We talk about education being a civil right. Well, health is a civil right. Being able to enjoy your health, to understand the importance of fitness. It’s hard to get a whole lot else done if you're not well, if you’re not taking care of your body, if you’re not taking care of your physical being. Add that to being targeted. Add that to being jailed unjustly. Add that to being killed with very little reason, for minor crimes. Add that to just being targets of bias and racism and all the other harsh things that people go through.

With COVID when you think about the first responders, and you see that it’s more than our doctors, our health providers. These are folks who are driving buses. These are folks who are taking out the trash. These are people on the front lines that, frankly, don’t have the luxury of working remotely. They don’t have that set up. They have to go to work in the middle of a pandemic.

And then when you talk about being able to be tested, and some of the disparities there. Who gets tested. It’s really an interesting web that we’ve woven around health.

ARNOLD: How do you think that something like running or sport could actually help shape positive change? Like, how could The One Million Miles for Justice Event, this one event, how can that translate into something bigger and more meaningful?

MORRIS: What I love about One Million Miles for Justice is you just decide how you want to do it. Talk about encouraging people to move. To create more awareness about fitness and health, and to tie that into something else that is such a huge issue. To be able to run for a cause, to be able to run with the understanding that there is more that we can do to try to right this course and to be able to raise funds for organizations that have as their mission to do just that. And it was a very fit for the National Civil Rights Museum because of what we do every day.

Arnold: Yeah, can you talk a little more about your connection with the civil rights race series in general? I know when in person events were happening there was an in-person component to what they were doing. What has that been like for you all?

MORRIS: Well, you know what I love about what Raynard and Vergil are doing with the race series is they’re going around the county and they’re creating awareness of these civil rights sites. The places where civil rights either happened or are being chronicled, so folks will know what’s happened. What happened then. And how it connects to what’s happening now. I think what they’re doing is really worthy of attention, and participation and support. And they’re doing it in a way that has a little entertainment and an outlet to it. In some instances they’re introducing you to something you didn’t know. Or broadening your understanding of it because they’re spending some time emphasizing and focusing on what the civil rights entity is about and who’s impacted by the stories that they tell. So, I love the concept and I want them to keep it going and I want folks to get on board and help keep this kind of movement moving on.

SCHWARTZ: As Faith Morris mentioned, the beauty of the One Million Miles for Justice event is that you can cover the ground however it feels best. The important thing is to get moving in a way that feels good to you. And uniting to the cause and doing something to help feels good, too.

As we discussed last week, distance running is primarily a white sport. But together, we can join the movement for change and inclusivity.

The organizations connected to the One Million Miles for Justice event build healthy communities for Black folks to join to run and walk and move forward with better health for the long run. Many of them are focused on varying forms of social justice as well, to educate their members and push for better policies that benefit everybody.

We spoke with Tori O’Neal, Chief of External Affairs for the NAACP. O’Neal shared with us her thoughts on current progress and hope for the future.

So, as someone who has been a civil servant for so much of your career, does it seem like things are actually changing now in a way that is new and different?

O’NEAL: It does. I get asked a lot if this feels like the tipping point. My response is I don’t know if there is the tipping point. It certainly feels like a tipping point. I think there will need to be one of many tipping points. But this feels particularly different. Part of what feels different is boy, have the youth in this country so inspired me. They also are very clearly disabusing people of the belief that they are not capable or not paying attention or not concerned. The youth of this country are on fire. That is so incredibly inspiring. It feels different because it is youth. And not just youth but everyone we’re seeing in the streets and demanding justice, demanding change. They look like the reflection of America. That you’re not just seeing Black people in the streets. You’re seeing people in the streets who understand that there is a dire need in this country for justice and for change. And that feels very different. Very very different, and hopeful.

ARNOLD: So, how do we begin to close the gap on health disparities?

As we move forward, we want to leave with some hope and some steps to take action.

First of all, take care of your health. Keep running and walking and keep safe social distance during the pandemic.

SCHWARTZ: We can also support these great organizations like the Civil Rights Race Series that put on the One Million Miles for Justice. Places like NAACP are figuring out the best next steps and we can support them in their work. Join. Vote. Listen to Black voices and Black stories. Check out for more information about the organizations involved and how you can support them. We will also link sources that we cited in this podcast today.

ARNOLD: And just like it takes time to heal an injury, to increase our mobility, our flexibility, find balance within our body, solving the issue of systemic racism is going to take time too. We hope that you learned something new in this podcast and you continue to keep learning alongside us.

Finally, we recognize that the distance running community is largely white. Let’s learn more about our racial bias and do the work to dismantle it.

We are all stronger when we move together.

Hey, also, just because this series is over, don’t worry. We’ve got more audio content headed your way by way of our monthly podcast, Together We Move: a running podcast that tackles tough issues in the world all through the lens of, you guessed it, running.

Our very first episode comes out in August, so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Spotify, and follow us on social media to get all of the updates you need to stay informed.

Thanks for joining us today. I’m Ashley Arnold and I’m Kate Schwartz. Have a great weekend.

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