Running is a beneficial pastime that about 50 million Americans enjoy. While running can be mentally beneficial, offering runners elevated mood and improved memory and focus, running doesn’t appeal the same to everyone. A study conducted by Gatorade Endurance in 2021, revealed that minority groups face barriers that discourage them from running. Including the lack of representation and safety concerns like injury or even worse––hate crimes. Minority groups fear their story ends like that of Ahmaud Arbery who lost his life while jogging through his neighborhood in 2020. It could be the awareness that in addition to hate as a motive for someone to cause them harm, lack of representation in running, stereotypes, and bias convince others that black people only run when it’s away from the scene of a crime. Black and other minority groups may feel that running would only make them look more suspect.
“We had different people that did different things.”
Ramon Brunson, a father of four, shares his experience as a young black runner.
“But when I did show up to cross country meets, or different track meets and ran my events…like 2 miles to 1600 (meters), it was a sprinkle of black people who ran those events; the majority white.”
Brunson was born and raised in Flint Michigan. He attended Longfellow Middle School and Flint Northern High School—both predominantly black. He says that while those schools had running teams, distance running wasn’t common among his peers, but sprinting was. Brunson recalls his experience at distance meets:
“I always felt out of place like there’s nobody else that does distance running. So when I ran, I always wanted to prove that kids coming from the inner city could run the long-distance race just as good if not better than anybody coming from like Midland.”
Brunson says he is unsure why black distance runners were so uncommon in his community but could not recall seeing any other black distant runners until about eighth grade—the very ones he would compete against.
Brunson’s experience of the sport changed in his first year of community college. That year, he would run with seven other teammates, three Black, and four White.
“That was a cool experience. We always encouraged each other—were always there supporting and we always wanted to show our team was different.”
In his second year, he was the only remaining black member of the team. He notes that that season was very different. He placed more pressure on himself to perform well this time around. “I still felt like I had to prove myself, not only to my team,” Brunson says. “But when I went out to different meets I had to hold my own like, ‘I can run.’”
Brunson remembers proudly showing his blackness that year: wearing his hair in braids and his hats backward, though he felt it was unlike the appearance of the typical runner, especially in cross country.
“I think that was just a mindset that I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to change because I was the only black kid on the team.”
During that time he says he and his teammates learned from one another about their cultures. They would share and discuss their differences in things like music. He remains friends with some of his former teammates to this day.
“I think it’s good for people to learn from each other and not run away from that,” says Brunson. “Even though the foundation of Run The City 517 is to gather black runners, it welcomes everyone. The group is for everybody to come…the whole goal is to get people to run and be active. The same thing with the Lansing Area Track Club.”
Those experiences from early in his life would manifest into the aforementioned opportunities for others in the present. In 2007, Ramon and his family moved to Lansing after he took the job as a correctional officer in Ionia. In 2015, a conversation that he, his wife, and some friends had over a card game at his kitchen table became the origin of the Lansing Area Track Club. The nine original members would be his four children and his friends’ five children. The growth of the organization came organically.
“Really it just started out with our kids going to the track and just doing some workouts,” says Brunson.
“We really had no plans of making a team. Even during the season were just out there working out in the morning at 9 o’clock for about an hour. Then people started seeing us. When people started seeing us, I think my wife made a post on Facebook.”
Brunson says that after his wife made that post, people asked if there was a team and it took off from there.
Run the City 517 started in June 2022. Brunson was on a Facebook page called Black Lansing where someone had asked where the local Black runners were. After he replied, the two agreed to meet on a Saturday for a run. That turned into a weekly activity and eventually snowballed into Run the City 517.
Aside from his own efforts, Brunson feels that people like himself are getting more representation in the running industry than when he was coming up. “Even reading Alison Désir’s book, Running While Black, I have experiences that connect with that book,” he sighs. “It’s cool to see the community of black runner’s coming along. Maybe it has been back in the day but with social media, you can see it a lot more.”
He recounted the feeling that overflowed his body when he saw a video of various brown faces and hairstyles on the move together:
“I think I was on an Instagram page for a run group in North Carolina. When they took off I was seeing a swarm of just black runners going by. It was so dope, it literally brought tears to my eyes because I remember being at races and being one of the few black runners. To see a wave of black people come by running…was so dope.”