February is Black History Month, and we’re taking this time to reflect on the history of running
Jesse Owens | Getty Images
February is Black History Month, and we’re taking this time to reflect on the history of running, and the incredible contributions that members of the BIPOC community have made to the sport and through it, to our culture. Black history is all of our history, and we’re committed to uplifting BIPOC narratives and stories that helped to shape our industry and community.
"We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort."
- Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens is arguably one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time. Yes, his record-breaking career alone would have cemented his place in running history, but the moment that he met at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin perhaps had the largest impact of all. His four gold medals were a strong rebuke to Nazi Germany’s racist assertion of dominance on the basis of whiteness. He helped the US return with 11 gold medals that year, and at least two new world records.
Although Jesse Owens blazed the trail for BIPOC athletes in the mid-thirties, it wasn’t until 1948 that the first black woman won an Olympic gold medal. Alice Coachman was the first to break that barrier at the London Olympics in the High Jump. Her win paved the way for an endorsement from Coca-Cola in 1952, their first of an African American ever. While Alice was the first, she was committed to not being last. She helped coach BIPOC athletes, holding the door open for others to follow in her footsteps.
Alice Coachman | Bettman/Getty Images
Olympic Athletes Who Took A Stand -
The firsts of Jesse Owens and Alice Coachman led to an opportunity to demand better by athletes that followed them. One of the most iconic civil rights images of the 1960’s is that of John Carlos and Tommie Smith with raised fists on the medal podium during the playing of the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics. The star track athletes put everything on the line in that moment to demand better for themselves, their families, and their communities. The protest was met with expulsion from the remainder of the Olympic games and the USA Track and Field team. It did, however, set the stage for black athletes to use sports as a platform for activism and to highlight civil rights issues.
Local organizations within our community -
While these stories highlight the national and global impact that BIPOC individuals have had on history through the sport of running, there are many local individuals and organizations within our own communities who continue to build a legacy of running right here in Michigan. For example, S.T.A.R.S (Sisters Taking Action Reversing Statistics) founded by Aliya Armstrong is a group in Grand Rapids geared toward the support of black women engaging in movement activities- from group exercise opportunities, to 5k event training programs, S.T.A.R.S is focused building community health. In Detroit, WeRun313 is the largest and fastest growing run club in the City of Detroit. Started by Lance Woods and Joe Robinson, the club aims to dismantle the narrative that African Americans don’t run, and build a group based on connection, and encouragement.
Photo of S.T.A.R.S community taken at Gazelle Girl Half Marathon
Photo of WeRun313 in Detroit, MI
While it’s important to reflect on the significant historical moments that paved the way, we also know that we are living history right now. As part of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, we are committed to continuing to uplift and amplify BIPOC voices and narratives in the running community and across the industry. Our intention carries beyond Black History month, and into building an inclusive and equitable future.