A long time ago, I convinced a friend of mine that we were going to “get fit” and maybe make a school team (we didn’t). At 5AM before the world stirred, I would get up and get ready: a black and blue winter jacket, scrub style pants, an oversized hoodie (hood on!), and a pair of skateboard shoes. A time before the ubiquitous smartphone, I’d walk over to my friend’s house, in our upper-middle class suburban neighbourhood, and on more than one occasion knocked on her door, peered into her windows, and rustled around her front yard bushes attempting to make noise as she was prone to sleeping through her alarm. My friend would appear in the dark of the morning dressed in jeans, a puffy jacket, a hoodie and a pair of Skechers.
We felt like runners and for all we cared, we looked like runners too.
But not everyone who runs, is dressed like a runner.
A year ago today, a 25 year old man went out a little over 2 miles from his house in Fancy Bluff, a community just outside of Brunswick, Georgia.
This 25 year old man, a former high school football player, decided to go for a jog in Satilla Shores, a small predominantly white waterfront neighbourhood with quiet streets. He went alone and, in a white t-shirt, tan cargo shorts, and a pair of grey athletic shoes, he decided to run.
I imagine that he felt like a runner but to the residents of Satilla Shores, he may not have looked like one.
At first glance, based on our clothes and the way I snuck around my friend’s front yard, one would never have guessed that my friend and I were trying to exercise. As we ran at dawn on streets lined with detached single family homes; we were never hassled. Two fair-skinned female teens running by street light dressed in hoodies with no thoughts in our mind of risk or danger. Cars never slowed to take a second look. Neighbours never flinched or lowered their gaze. No one looked at us suspiciously as we lumbered towards them.
To the outside world, we belonged on the sidewalks of our sleepy suburb.
When Ahmaud Arbery ran, he was never made to feel like he belonged.
Ahmaud Arbery. A football player. A friend. A son. A brother.
A man judged by his clothes. A young man, who decided to walk onto a construction site before his run and was forever marked. A young man judged by his skin colour. A victim of the assumptions and injustices connected to his level of melanin.
Ahmaud Arbery. A man who was not given the same benefit my friend and I were. An individual who was not given the liberty to take up space, to be free, to just be without explanation.
Ahmaud Arbery. A Black man.
A Black man unjustly pursued by two vigilantes who stole something more important than can be described in words. Two individuals who believed the value in their actions was far greater than the potential of Ahmaud’s life.
Ahmaud Arbery. Shot three times. A life unjustly cut short. A human being.
My friend and I would run, never believing we were out of place, that we were dressed “incorrectly”, or that we were not safe. Our neighbours must have felt that way too. Two oddly dressed hooded individuals running in the dark without police confrontations, without threats to our lives. Without fear.
Not everyone has safety. Or feels belonging. Or is as fortunate. Injustices persist and while steps forward are being taken, more needs to be done.
Ahmaud never had that safety when his life was taken from him. He didn’t have the privilege to cross into another neighbourhood and just run without his motives being questioned. He was made to feel like he didn’t belong. That his life was less important because he was Black.
A call to action has been issued to the running community. There needs to be safe, inclusive, diverse spaces that are bolstered and defended by all and furthermore, are understood and respected by society at large.
How do we do this?
There are no perfect answers or paths to solutions but here are some ideas that are worth a reminder:
Learn About The Issues:
Educate using reputable sources. Know the issues important to runners identifying as BIPOC, and/or LGBTQ+ , and/or with a disability. Be an ally. Support groups that spread awareness, anti-racism, and equity. Advocate or donate if this is where you find your voice.
Currently, the 2.23 Foundation is inviting runners to run virtually in honour of Ahmaud Arbery. They will be raisings proceeds to go directly to scholarships to afford young men and women the opportunity to become future leaders.
Reflect on your own unconscious biases, responses, and reactions. What assumptions might you have subscribed to in the past? What tools do you have at your disposal to help lift up others and create meaningful change? When you hear biases infiltrating conversation or actions, what do you do? How can you contribute to positive change and safety?
Analyze your run community on social media and in real life. Does it reflect the beauty and uniqueness in running diversity, purpose, and beliefs? Do you notice when a runner with a different profile joins a club or race? Welcome this difference, help defend the space they occupy. Recognize that each person has a story and that anyone can be a runner. Normalize diversity both within the running community and in other communities you belong to.
May the memory of Ahmaud not be in vain. Let us learn and reflect and find a way to contribute to meaningful change so that history does not continue to repeat itself.
Let us be part of the solution.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Ahmaud Arbery. While the story above relates to my own experience, it should not take away from Ahmaud’s story or from the important issues including anti-racism, justice, and equity within the running community and society at large. I encourage research and education via reputable sources to learn more. May the first anniversary of his death on February 23rd be a time in the running community (and for all) to reflect on what makes a runner, that representation matters, and that Black Lives Matter.