Culture

2.23-Mile Virtual Run on 2/23 will Honor Ahmaud Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery was murdered on February 23, 2020, while he was out running. His murder drew attention to safety issues that Black runners face, and it left runners and non-runners shaken and wanting to do something. Many people laced up and joined virtual runs in his honor.

This February 23, the virtual event Finish the Run will both honor Arbery and raise money for scholarships that will empower young Black and brown people. The run will be hosted by the 2:23 Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Arbery’s cousin and his high school football coach that aims to prevent something like his murder from happening again.

The Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC) is a partner in Finish the Run. Arbery’s murder is the reason the RIDC was created. It prompted runner-activists Alison Mariella Désir and Verna Volker to join other industry leaders and an advisor to create a coalition that would fight systemic racism in the running community and running industry. Désir and Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports, cochair the coalition.

Runners took Arbery’s murder personally, says Samantha Gilder, executive assistant to the 2:23 Foundation. “The running community has truly stepped up and taken on kind of the emotional toll of the situation.” Lampen-Crowell identified with Arbery as a runner, and as a father who couldn’t imagine losing a child this way. “The amount of sadness I had around this event made me want to take action,” he says, admitting, “In the past, I wouldn’t have taken the action that I took.”

In the past year, the deaths of Arbery and George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement have “shaken people up in their lives individually, but also in the running industry, because the running industry is very white,” Volker says. Some white runners have only recently begun to see how systemic racism affects their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) counterparts, she says.

“If we can orient runners to how to make an impact in our own space, it’s a way to make sure that people are involved,” Désir says. “Because it can be really consuming to figure out: What is my role in all of this? It’s overwhelming. What can I do?”

This run is something people can do. “Part of our work is to make sure that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging—and creating not just physical safety but intellectual and emotional safety for runners—remains a priority,” and Finish the Run helps do that, Désir says. The coalition’s work involves addressing power structures in the industry, “but it’s also about creating healthy communities and ensuring that parks and streets are safe places to run.”

Finish the Run

The event is called “Finish the Run” because it will take place on the one-year anniversary of Arbery’s murder, “to finish the run that he set out and intended to take,” Gilder says.

The RIDC’s involvement shows that “the running industry has taken it upon themselves to do the work and to understand how a predominantly white sport needs to be more focused on inclusivity,” Gilder says.

The 2:23 Foundation initially focused on advocating for justice for Arbery’s murder and has turned to providing hope for future generations. It sees the run as a way to turn something tragic into empowerment, Gilder says. It aims to raise $223,000 over the next year for scholarships.

Participants can sign up to run, walk, or bike 2.23 miles. The event will start on February 23 and end on March 3. The entry fee is $23 per person, and all proceeds will go directly to a scholarship fund that empowers young Black and brown people to pursue public office and careers related to social causes, including fields where they are typically underrepresented.

As a partner, the RIDC has helped to put together a day of conversations with various runners and influencers for the event, and to bring in Strava as the event’s host app.

Kick-Starting Conversation

The RIDC has gained steam since it launched in October. It has grown to include more than 850 partners—among them businesses, organizations, and individuals, including about 250 individual runners. It has gotten the running industry’s attention, Lampen-Crowell says.

The coalition has hosted three large virtual workshops for partners—“A Talk About Talking About Race,” “Why DEI?” and “Grappling with Unconscious Bias”—as well as smaller “stretch sessions” that allow deeper conversation. The workshops have been well attended and appreciated.

More than 150 people attended the most recent workshop, and Volker says she thought about “how each of these people might be race directors, they might be working at a running store—they might be coming from so many different areas of running,” and they want to be part of these sometimes uncomfortable conversations. “It’s really exciting to see how people are coming to that,” she says.

Later this year, the RIDC has scheduled workshops on recruitment and hiring, authentic marketing and representation, and reporting on diversity. For reporting, the coalition is working toward developing something like a report card, akin to a B Corp certification, that would make companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) data transparent and easily accessible.

Also, the coalition has worked with Running USA to get its 2020 Global Runner Survey to include questions about DEI for the first time. “There’s never been an attempt to look at that quantitatively or qualitatively,” Désir says. “Running USA is also looking into creating a toolkit for race directors” that would include considerations such as “how to make your event safe for Black and brown participants,” she says.

Runners often say “running is for everyone,” but not everyone feels like they belong, Volker says. When she was growing up, Volker saw runners as one type: white, thin, long-legged, and usually blond. She didn’t see herself as a runner until much later in life. Through the coalition’s work to make the running community more inclusive, “we can change that story,” she says.

Finish the Run brings awareness to how BIPOC often “don’t feel included or don’t feel part of the narrative,” Volker says. Commemorating the anniversary of a murder invokes pain, but because of what the run represents and is funding, it also offers hope, Lampen-Crowell says. 2.23 miles and a donation may seem small, but the fundamental change the coalition is pushing for in the running community won’t come all at once—it will come with incremental actions that add up, he says.

Editor’s note: Allison Torres Burtka is a freelance writer and accepted the role of co-lead of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition’s media subgroup while reporting this story.