Who says Black girls don’t run? Not anyone in midtown Manhattan last week, as supporters gathered to celebrate the third anniversary of Black Girls Run! Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks created the organization “in an effort to tackle the growing obesity epidemic in the African-American community and provide encouragement and resources to both new and veteran runners.”

Their mission is to encourage Back women to prioritize fitness in their lives.  With 80% of Black women considered overweight or obese, organizations like Black Girls Run! are essential in preventing a generation of Black women with even higher rates of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and cancers.

A positive message about fitness and health is absolutely necessary in our community. Sometimes encouragement to stay fit and active is misconstrued as body shaming and criticism that damages a woman’s body image.  Positive self image is great but health and fitness are very important to a woman’s overall happiness and organizations like Black Girls Run! have been very successful in walking that fine line ending up on the side of female empowerment.

I spoke with the creators about the fact that the focus of their organization has always been health first and foremost.  Toni Carey said, “Ashley and I have been on the other side,” dealing with being overweight.  “Small women can be shamed into being smaller.  So it’s not about that.  It’s about being healthy.  Studies have proven that if you a pre-diabetic and prone to heart disease you’re going to live less than people that aren’t.  So that in our minds is what this is about. It’s not about you shouldn’t be comfortable in your skin, you absolutely should but you should be healthy.  Physically, mentally, and spiritually.”

Ashley Hicks noted that on their website they have featured “Non-Scale Victories” where members of their online community share successes like, “I went to the doctor today and my cholesterol is lower” or “I no longer turn to food to cope with stress. I now go for a run.” Hicks said “It’s about focusing on living a healthy lifestyle.”

Hicks and Carey also say that as far as nutrition it’s all about moderation and not about deprivation.  Just because you are running doesn’t mean you can stop at Krispy Crème on the way home from your workout.  It’s all about making healthier choices and allowing yourself a special treat from time to time.

Working toward fitness, versus thinness, is a focus these days—especially with First Lady Michelle Obama’s very successful Let’s Move! campaign making headlines. Like Let’s Move!, Hicks and Carey said Black Girls Run! encourages both children and their parents to add healthier habits into their routines.  Both Let’s Move! and Black Girls Run! emphasize the importance of keeping the unhealthy options out of the house and substituting those snacks with better options for the entire family.

In September, Black Girls Run! is hosting their first road race in Atlanta, a 10K and a 5K. Their goal over the next few years is to hit the ground running in areas that really need it.  States like Mississippi and Alabama are future stops on the Black Girls Run! tour as Carey and Hicks continue to work tirelessly to make change happen in our community. Their efforts will ensure that we are all living positive, healthy, happy and longer lives.

Visit Black Girls Run! online.