Running clubs: In Boston, an effort to include everyone

At a recent meeting of members of Black Men Run and Black Girls Run! in Boston, organizer Jeff Davis asks the group why they showed up. Peace, gratitude, freedom, joy and love are some of the answers.

Runners take a moment to remember those who have gone before them: the ancestors; enslaved people who fled those who enslaved them; Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while fleeing. “We run because they can’t,” Davis said.

Why we wrote this

Running is often considered a hobby that anyone wearing a pair of sneakers can pursue. But what about those who feel less welcome? In Boston, local clubs aim to recruit black runners and promote camaraderie — and freedom.

These clubs are among many in the area working to change the perceptions of community members, many of whom did not grow up in an environment conducive to distance or recreational running. Leaders aim to create opportunities that provide camaraderie and allow more people to experience the freedom and liberation that running provides.

“When people see us running down the street, they know who we are and they welcome us,” says Sidney Baptista, founder of Pioneers Run Crew.

Back at the joint event, a girl in a bright red shirt sprints alongside her dad as she completes her 5-mile loop through the Dorchester neighborhood. As the young runner crosses the finish line, arms raised in victory, Black Girls Run! leader Katonya Burke exclaims, “That’s it! This is the next generation!

Boston

When Sidney Baptista started running nearly a decade ago, he knew he would have to find a daily route outside of his own Boston neighborhood.

The close-knit Cape Verdean community of Dorchester was at home, but it did not offer the company of other runners. He would instead lace up his shoes and head to more affluent areas of Boston, like Back Bay, Cambridge and along the Charles River to practice his hobby. It became an escape, a gift for mind, soul and body, he says. And yet, the more he ran, the more he realized that it didn’t make sense to shuttle between different neighborhoods just to run a few miles. When he tried to invite his friends and family, they always turned him down.

“People around me were like, ‘What are you doing?’ he says. So instead, he brought them racing.

Why we wrote this

Running is often considered a hobby that anyone wearing a pair of sneakers can pursue. But what about those who feel less welcome? In Boston, local clubs aim to recruit black runners and promote camaraderie — and freedom.

Mr. Baptista started the Pioneers Run Crew in 2017. Since then, he and his “team captains” have encouraged hundreds of new recruits and expanded a network of runners from diverse backgrounds across Boston. His group is one of many in the area working to change perceptions among community members, many of whom did not grow up in an environment that favored distance or recreational running. Leaders aim to create opportunities that provide camaraderie and allow more people to experience the freedom and liberation that running provides.

“When people see us running down the street, people know who we are and they welcome us,” Mr. Baptista says of the path his group has taken, with their brightly colored gear.

Melanie Stetson Freeman / Staff

Sidney Baptista talks to runners July 6, 2022. Mr Baptista started the Pioneers Run Crew in 2017. Since then he and his ‘team captains’ have encouraged hundreds of new recruits and expanded a network of runners from diverse backgrounds across Boston.

Only 4% of respondents to a 2020 Running USA survey identified as black. Athletes of color often turn to basketball, football and track and field in hopes of “going pro,” Mr. Baptista, an entrepreneur and community organizer, says in an interview in his Dorchester office. For many people in the neighborhoods he works with, long-distance running doesn’t live up to that promise. He adds that national social inequalities and the red line have forced people of color to live in neighborhoods that lack the infrastructure, including properly maintained sidewalks, to support outdoor running. Safety – from traffic and sometimes from crime – is also a concern.

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