Winston-Salem joins the Black Men Run movement
(pictured above: (From left) Captain Yussef Gilkey poses with Undrae Hayes, Chris Epps, KC Council, Derrick Brown and Derrick Brown II before a run on Saturday.)
Black Girls Run! And the world now knows it, thanks to the success and visibility of the popular international fitness and fellowship organization.
“I guess with the high rate of obesity, diabetes … , statistically, we aren’t supposed to be even out here,” Yussef Gilkey said, referencing the nonplussed reactions he and other local Black Men Run members encounter during their miles-long jogs.
Jason L. Russell, Maurice Granger, Terry Gresham and Edward Walton founded Black Men Run in Atlanta in July 2013 with the mantra of “Brotherhood -Unity – Health.” The movement has since exploded; there are now more than 30 chapters, including burgeoning ones in London and Paris.
Gilkey casually threw around the idea of starting a Winston-Salem chapter late last year while attending a 5k to cheer-on local Black Girls Run members (one of whom is his girlfriend Tammy Cunningham). The idea grew legs and took off from there. Gilkey was soon contacted by BMR national leaders in Atlanta, and the Winston-Salem chapter took shape last October.
The running group is free and open to any and all, said Gilkey, the local chapter’s captain. Word of mouth and the chapter’s Facebook page have attracted dozens of runners over the last several months. Some have been loyal participants; some have come and gone. The chapter, though, has steadfastly maintained its commitment to the BMR mission.
Morning group runs are held weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are afternoon runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a weekend run on Saturday mornings. Members also take part in various 5k and 10k races, often while proudly wearing their Black Men Run t-shirts.
Runners can pick and choose the group sessions and events that best suit them. Saturday, six members arrived at the group’s meeting spot – the Gateway YWCA parking lot – before 9 a.m. After a mix of stretching and light bantering, Chris Epps was designated as the day’s run leader, a duty that includes picking which of the paths and trails surrounding the Y the men will take. Epps is an experienced marathon runner, yet, he still jumped at the chance to join BMR.
“You get encouragement and motivation when you run with a group,” he said.
Runners vary by age, skill and fitness level. Such a hodgepotch makes the group interesting, said Undrae Hayes, who at 47 is one of the group’s older members.
“We take them all,” Hayes said. “If you wanna walk before you run, you can do that. We leave no man behind.”
Gilkey started out as a walker – and 30 pounds heavier than he is today. He calls running a gateway activity: once you start, it forces you to eat and live better. Derrick Brown agrees. He used to be 287 pounds, too much, he said, even for his 6’4″ frame to support.
“It was starting to make me feel bad,” he said of the extra weight.
He had already dropped some of the excess pounds when he joined BMR, but credits the group with helping him maintain his current 237-pound weight. Brown’s son, Derrick II, has also caught the running bug, and at 16 is the youngest local BMR member.
All the guys say running – real running, the kind done outdoors with the wind at one’s back and nature all around – is an unparalleled exercise experience that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a football field or basketball court.
Kaiser “KC” Council was a novice runner – but not an inexperienced exerciser – when he signed up. In the beginning, muscles he didn’t know he had ached. His fellow members kept him motivated when his legs urged him to throw in the towel. Today, he’s one of the group’s most dedicated members and such a running junkie that he found time to get in a jog during a recent beach vacation.
“There’s a process … aches and pains are part of it, but it’s worth it,” he said.
Lucrecia Moore, who – along with Latisha Alford and Keya Jammeh – serves as an ambassador for the local Black Girls Run chapter, is pleased that she and the other members provided some of the motivation to start the Winston-Salem Black Men Run organization. Often, the two groups encounter each other on the running trails.
“We give them encouragement and support them in their races,” Moore said.
Both chapters are working to attract more participants. While the BGR Facebook page has more than 2,000 members, less than 200 of them regularly take part in runs. “Walk Before You Run” events designed to acclimate novice runners are being held to recruit more active members.
“Just imagine if we had 2,000 women out there running. It would make such a statement,” Moore said.
Gilkey said “Black Men Walk” events and other programs aimed at attracting more members are in the works. The local Black Men Run chapter is two years younger than its BGR counterpart, but is already experiencing some of the same issues.
More than 170 have been added to the chapter’s Facebook page, yet only about 25 men regularly run. While he believes quality trumps quantity, Gilkey wants more black men to experience the magic of running.
“You have a lot of success stories among our guys, and some of the successes you can’t even see,” he said.
Learn more about Black Men Run Winston-Salem and Black Girls Run Winston-Salem on Facebook.