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Black Girls Run is a running group of African-American women seeking a healthy lifestyle

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By:  Mariana Braz & Jaqueline Goncalves

A group of over 20 African-American women meet at the Watsessing Park in Bloomfield, NJ every weekend to run. Photo by: Simone Cioccari
A group of over 20 African-American women meet at the Watsessing Park in Bloomfield, NJ every weekend to run. Photo by: Simone Cioccari

Black girls don’t run. Or do they?

On the one hand, some of the nations most famous runners have been African-American women, from Florence Griffith-Joyner to Marion Jones.

But in concrete terms, African-Americans are not well represented among long-term runners who participate in events and train year round. They make up only 1.6 percent of core runners according to a recently released biannual National Runner Survey of 12,000 runners from 60 different running clubs in the U.S.

At the same time, African-Americans are the group hardest hit by the obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) more than one-third of the American population is obese but among African-Americans, particularly women, the rate is even higher, almost 80 percent according to the Office of Minority Health reports released in 2010.

These figures are particularly serious for Mercer students of whom almost 25 percent are African American and 53 percent are female.

But there is a running group, founded in 2009, that is trying to reverse the trends and change the demographics of running. The group, which sports T-shirts with bright black and pink logos, is called Black Girls Run (BGR).

Founded by Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks, BGR’s stated mission is to “become the leading resource and source of inspiration for generations of African-American women seeking to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.” The slogan on their website reads: “Preserving the Sexy!”

What started as a single small group in 2009 is now 69 running groups in 30 states. The BGR New Jersey group started in 2010. Along with neighboring groups in Pennsylvania and New York they have become a highly visible and vibrant community at running events.

Participants from local BGR groups were out in full force on November 10, 2012 at Trenton’s first ever Half Marathon, called the “Double-Cross” because it crossed the Delaware river on Trenton’s famous bridges, two times.

According to Mercer New Media professor Holly Johnson (full disclosure: she is a VOICE faculty adviser) who ran in the Trenton Half, “The Black Girls Run group seemed to be having the most fun. They had less attitude than some of the snootier running groups there.”

Johnson said she saw an even bigger group of BGR runners at the Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia half marathon in September.

“I ran along side a BGR member and there were times when she seemed to be struggling a bit. It was a hot day. Still, she noticed when I dropped back and at the next water station she went out of her way to hand me a cup. When we got to the end, there was a huge group of BGR runners there cheering her on. Honestly, I really wish I could join that group!” Johnson told The VOICE.

Apryl Butler (41) joined BGR a little over a year ago and has lost 32 lbs since. Butler told the VOICE that one of her motivations is to know there are people waiting for her. “Having the commitment to be there on time because people are waiting on you is a big incentive. I know I have to be there at 8:59 because if I get there at 9:00 I am already late.”

Butler is one of the over 20 African-American women who gather at Watsessing Park in Bloomfield, NJ three to five times a week to exercise.

April Simmons (27) is an ambassador of Black Girls Run in New Jersey. She started in May 2010 and says she has lost 20 pounds since she jjoined Black Girls Run.”

The philosophy, says Simmons, is “no girl left behind!” She explains that all fitness levels are welcome. Each member set their goals and follow the program that is most suitable to their needs. There are no fees to join. “It doesn’t cost to move,” said Simmons.

The program the Watsessing Park are following is the “C to 5”, which stands for “couch to 5k.” This is an eight-week program that is designed to prepare people who have never run before to run 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) races.

New members can start walking and gradually move to a run. The ideal is to start slowly and progressively increase the intensity, duration and frequency you work out.

Mercer Associate Athletic Director and Athletic Trainer Lisa Camillone told the VOICE that a beginner should start exercising three to four days a week, for 20 to 30 minutes each time. She also said that nobody should start any exercise routine before consulting to a professional.

“You should contact a coach, a trainer because you shouldn’t just jump into that without understanding some of the consequences.”

Mercer’s women’s cross country team, founded in 2010, which has grown from two to ten members since its inception, only included one African-American member this year, second-year student Karizma Brown.

When asked her thoughts on Black Girls Run, Brown said, “I think it is great, since not everyone has motivation to run alone. They can find it in a group. Also they develop friendship and it brings the community together.”

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