Running is a numbers game. Whether we’re logging miles, tracking a running streak, chasing a personal record or a Boston qualifier, or measuring our heart rate or cadence… there are numbers everywhere. As runners, it’s how we gauge progress.
Numbers also motivate Charlotte’s chapter of Black Men Run. Through running, the group wants to encourage Black men to take on healthy lifestyle habits, inspire one another, and change health outcomes for their peers.
“It’s about men’s health,” says Charlotte’s Black Men Run captain Greg Washington. “Our group is trying to reverse the trend of black men with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”
According to the CDC and the American Heart Association, the statistics for African American men’s health are striking:
⁃ African American men are 20% more likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic White men
⁃ African American men are more likely to have high blood pressure, but less likely to have it under control than non-Hispanic Whites
⁃ African Americans are more likely to struggle with obesity and diabetes, risk factors for heart disease, than their White counterparts
The American Heart Association says a healthy diet and regular exercise can limit risk factors, and Black Men Run is literally taking that message to heart.
“Black Men Run is a national organization with a mission to promote health and wellness among African American men and uses running to create ‘A Healthy Brotherhood,'” says BMR National Co-Captain Rafael Ortiz. “Our goal is to reduce the alarming health conditions the disproportionately affect Black men, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.”
The national organization started in Atlanta in 2013, and Washington formed Charlotte’s chapter shortly after that — after seeing a man in a BMR jersey cross the finish line at a race his wife was running.
“I was not a runner,” Washington admits. “When my wife didn’t have anyone to run with her, she’d drag me out!” He enjoyed the gym and cardio HIIT workouts more, but fell in love with running the more he did it. He started a Black Men Run group in Charlotte by spreading word of a Saturday morning meetup, which he often ran by himself at first. But then word got around.
Now Washington sees around a dozen men for the Monday night runs on Toby Creek Greenway, and two dozen or more for the monthly Saturday runs on Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
Two years ago, their BMR relay placed first for men in the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. Last year, the group raised money to buy a flat screen TV for video announcements at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center on Central Avenue. Men from the Center often joined BMR on their outings.
Of course, COVID-19 has limited their runs and their numbers, but Washington makes sure if they gather, runners wear masks before and after running, keep 6 feet or more apart, and avoid the post-run celebratory hugs and high-fives. National and regional meet-ups at races have been canceled, but the spirit and brotherhood are still there for men wanting to join them locally.
Men don’t even need to be runners. Washington wants them to come out and feel the encouragement.
“If someone wants to walk, we’ll make sure someone walks with them,” says Washington. “I’ll walk with them.” He often stops to talk to people who cheer them on along their route, telling them about the group and asking if they’d like to be a part of it. “Your distance, your pace” and “No man left behind” are their mantras. Most feedback from passersby is positive, he says.
“Our Charlotte chapter has been one of the strongest and most committed groups,” says the BMR National’s Ortiz. “They continue to inspire others and form great partnerships in the local running community.”
And right now, looking ahead to virtual races and keeping a leaderboard on Strava keep everyone motivated. The group agrees on a few virtual races, even sending BMR medals to finishers. They’d like to host a series of their own.
But Washington agrees the idea isn’t to win or even race — it’s to bring men together for a brotherhood of better health.
“I like camaraderie with the guys and goal setting,” he says. “The mystery of the race got me hooked.”
To learn more: blkmenrun.com or Black Men Run CHARLOTTE on Facebook.
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