Photo depicting 4 Black Men Run Seattle members posing for a photo in their running gear.

OPINION: Running While Black Forever

by Johnny Fikru

First things first: Rest in Power to Ahmaud Arbery. With news of the verdict that the perpetrators of his murder will be held accountable, I am so grateful that Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, has received Justice for Ahmaud. While I never met the Brother, we shared things in common: both Black men, both in our mid-20s, both runners. 

Running has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. My mom actually told me I learned how to run before I walked. There is so much that I love about running: the deep stretching of the quads; the peaceful quietness of a morning run; the freeing of thoughts from distractions of the 24-hour news cycle, social media alerts, and challenges happening at work. There is nothing quite like the rhythmicity of running when you turn on cruise control and let your body take over. Running is integral to my identity. It’s how I handle feelings of depression and anxiety, and it has become a critical part of my morning routine. The rush of endorphins, the sensation of wholeness in both mind and body, make me feel I can take on whatever comes my way. And I’m able to carry that feeling with me throughout the day. 

But despite how much I love running and all the positive impacts it has on my life, there is still a fear that I might be putting my Black body at risk every time I go on a run. The Arbery case reminded me yet again that whiteness will see Blackness as a threat, no matter the circumstance. 

Photo depicting 3 Black men from Black Men Run Seattle running along a trail beside a lake.
Johnny Fikru, Dion Tucker, and (back) Marshall Titus of Black Men Run Seattle. Photo courtesy of Johnny Fikru.

Every time I step out for a run, questions race through my head. Did I let any of my loved ones know which neighborhood I’m running to? Should I keep one headphone out in case someone is trying to engage? Should I run around parks, rather than neighborhoods, because then people won’t think I’m in the way? What time of day should I be running? Did I miss the window where people are still sleeping and won’t pay attention to me? Should I be wearing my hoodie? When I’m traveling out of state, should I research where there is a safe place to run? 

These are the things I think about every time I step out, because I have to, as a matter of my own safety. The practice is a survival tactic; one made necessary because “running while Black” is perceived as threatening to white supremacy. After what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, I think about these things not only for myself but for every Black person who is trying to get their run on.

I lead a new running group called Black Men Run Seattle (BMR). We are part of a national organization with chapters all across the country. BMR’s mission is to promote a healthy lifestyle among African American males through participation in recreational running activities. I’m grateful to have a network of Brothers who share the same passion for running as I do. Running is something that I never want to give up. This sport has done so much for me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Because of BMR Seattle, I have had the opportunity to meet new Brothers who I can relate to in such a deep way, who are able to hold the complexities of what it means to be a Black man walking, running, etc. These relationships have been so healing for me, and I’m grateful to be running with a Black brotherhood now.

My feelings of safety and security are heightened when I’m running with people who look like me. I want other Brothers to feel safe, to know that there’s strength in numbers, and that we can build beautiful Black connections amongst each other while doing what we love. Running as a unit has reminded me of the collective spirit of resilience and resistance. Black folks can and should run anywhere and everywhere, and that’s it!

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Johnny Fikru is an avid runner who loves to build community and grow the movement.

📸 Featured Image: Black Men Run Seattle brothers posing after a 3-mile run at Seward Park. From left to right: Johnny Fikru, Dion Tucker, Isael McCall, and Marshall Titus. Photo courtesy of Johnny Fikru.

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