Tell us about your tagline “Find Meaning on the Run,” what have you found since uniting Harlemites through physical activity?
Find Meaning on the Run really speaks to my own growth and experience throughout my running journey. I turned to running because I really didn’t know what else to do and felt completely lost and helpless. Running helped give me a sense of purpose, helped me to explore and push my limits, helped me find a loving community, and helped me to begin to embrace the fact that I am far more powerful than I would give myself credit for. I firmly believe that I found meaning on the run and it has come to be the mantra that guides me.
As Nelson Mandela famously said, “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” I firmly believe that Harlem Run has begun to make this impact in the Harlem community and that it will continue to do so. As we expand our programming to target youth and incorporate East Harlem, we will be able to bring together even more people through the fellowship of running. There has been nothing more rewarding in my life than this opportunity.
How has the local community responded to the idea of a city running crew?
The response of the community has been overwhelmingly positive. As someone who is guided by a commitment to social justice, there is no way that I could ignore the inequities that exist in Harlem including the obvious economic, social, and health disparities. I am acutely aware of the ways in which gentrification in Harlem has and continues to remove people from their own community; I am also aware of the fact that I have an immense amount of privilege. Bearing all of this in mind, I am continuously looking for ways to make Harlem Run accessible to all and create an environment where I am at least aware of how issues of social class, for example, might serve as a barrier towards participation in our run club. That being said, I am proud that Harlem Run is comprised of both people who are born and raised in Harlem and people who are brand new to Harlem or even visiting for the week. Through running, people of all different walks of life and experience can interact and create understanding. However, perhaps my favorite part of Harlem Run has nothing to do with us at all- it has to do with the way in which those on the street who see us engage. Many have said that only in Harlem, do you find that people on the street jump in the run with you, cheer you on, tell you when you’re going too slowly, provide commentary and encouragement. The community is alive, engaged and watching and let’s us know that it is a great thing to see us up and moving in the neighborhood.
On the group website you mention how running is empowering and how it can be used as a vehicle for social change. How is Harlem Run bringing about social change?
I believe that Harlem Run is not only touching the individual lives of members but is a showcase and reminder for even those who don’t participate actively that health starts with the first step. Running expands people’s ideas of what’s possible, increases self-esteem, and leads to better health outcomes. I think that we are making running cool and accessible in the community and we are serving as an example for others of what is possible. Harlem is home to some of the most startling health statistics regarding obesity, diabetes, and heart conditions; Harlem Run is contributing to a climate that allows people to see a tangible expression of what it is to make a commitment to health. With this newfound commitment, I’ve found that it leads people to make smarter choices about what they eat and drink, thus disrupting a negative cycle resulting in poor health outcomes. That is social change.