BLACK RUNNERS OF THE GTA: Representation Matters
“What if representation is more than a magazine cover? What if it is the stories behind the images?” Not just one story, but an intentional selection of stories. Everyone would see themselves as runners. Stories set out to inspire the joy of running, especially to BIPOC followers, who might not realise running is an activity they can do."
by Melanie Murzeau
Melanie is a recreational runner, ambassador for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and founder of Black Runners of the GTA. Follow on her Instagram: @blackrunnersofthegta
In July 2020, I launched Black Runners of the GTA on Instagram. The idea had been in my mind since June of last year; I wanted to create a platform so that the stories of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour would be heard, and more importantly seen. I recall watching the video of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, as he was pursued and fatally shot while jogging; on the same day, I saw the video of George Floyd, murdered by police during his arrest. It was heartbreaking to know that people were being targeted because of their skin colour, that they were assumed to be a threat because of it. It was difficult to watch. But what I took away from watching those
videos, especially Ahmaud Arbery's, was that Black Lives Matter. Arbery’s death also raised the question of running safety for runners of colour, and how sometimes it is incredibly difficult just to leave the house, to trust others intentions when you are running.
"I fixated on the issue of why. Why was a black man seen as a threat, as opposed to getting his daily exercise?"
During that time, I would cry on my runs. Thinking about the videos and how their lives were so easily disposed of and so callously disregarded, I thought about their stories and how they wore the same skin as me. Different countries, same fear. Ahmaud was a person, with parents, siblings, friends. A young man simply going out for a jog around his neighbourhood. I wondered why he started running and how he must have felt before he left his home. Did he kiss his mom goodbye before he left? Or, simply shout to her while she was in the kitchen, “I'll be back soon”?
I fixated on the issue of why. Why was a black man seen as a threat, as opposed to getting his daily exercise? I know the obvious answer is racism, but I was fixated on a deeper understanding of why. Why was it so odd that a black man would go for a jog
in his neighbourhood? I was not going to solve racism. However, I did want to challenge the biases, conscious and unconscious, that surround the idea of a BIPOC person as a runner. I watched the NPR video, “The Historical Whiteness of Running” and followed
Alison Desir social media feed. The concept of representation mattering struck a chord with me. At the time on social media, BIPOC runners were cutting and pasting their images onto fake magazine covers. A symbolic gesture of diversity, a signal to let people know the activity is for everyone. My thinking at the time was, “What if representation is more than a magazine cover? What if it is the stories behind the
images?” Not just one story, but an intentional selection of stories. Everyone would see themselves as runners. Stories set out to inspire the joy of running, especially to BIPOC followers, who might not realise running is an activity they can do.
I created a mission: “Representation Matters”, a vision, brining BIPOC Runners into the larger running community and ethos, and creating a “Running is for Everyone” and Ubuntu (the spirit of the community, providing support based on how others feel, African Humanism) spirit.
I want to break down stereotypes. Toronto is a diverse and inclusive city, however, for me and many others, there are potential barriers that can prevent us from getting out the door. Toronto has an awesome running community and I knew that there were Black, Indigenous and People of Colour that would benefit from the support of being included, so I focus more on inclusion than diversity.
My research was limited to only me, and I had only myself to gage. I was a solo runner, but at times I felt as if I was an outsider looking in, or I was on my own, isolated and living outside the downtown core. I was struggling to know where to find what I was looking for and I wanted a platform that was geared towards community, even in a pandemic. I wanted a space that stressed the importance that running is for absolutely everyone, no matter what. I created Black Runners of the GTA: a platform that shows the broad spectrum of why people run.