“The hell with those racists.”
That was the thought that crossed my mind once I turned the first corner of my five-mile run today.
Today also marks the day that Black 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia while running a year ago. Collectively, we have mourned his death ever since.
The running community at large here in the US has been particularly responsive. Calling out racism and standing up for injustice. RunningDiversity.com is a fine example of runners and media publications working to shatter racists practices while reconciling with white privilege.
In honor of Ahmaud’s death, there is also a #finishtherun challenge today, spearheaded by his high school coach. You can donate $23 to their mission of raising $223,000 this year for scholarships to be awarded to future young attorneys, policymakers, and activists by visiting HERE.
As a Black woman that has been a long-distance runner for 28 years, his death has rocked me to my core. It unsettles and haunts me.
I wrote about my anxiety about being a Black runner in post-Trump America for ZORA earlier this month.
The Anxiety of Being a Black Runner
Scared for her safety, this writer doesn’t turn to her sacred ritual as often
I live in what looks like a forgotten snapshot of a Norman Rockwell rural mid-west painting.
But it’s actually on the edges of Houston, Texas.
Since Ahmaud’s murder, I have crowed with fear countless times about hitting the pavement along the lonely wooded roads in my neighborhood.
I’m sure where I live looks no different than where Ahmaud was chased out of existing in Georgia.
In the past year, I have never run so little in my life. I have an anxiety disorder so knowing that a man that looks like me just 365 days ago lost his life while running has kept me side-lined more times than I care to admit.
If they killed a young twenty-something Black able-bodied man, what chances do I have as a petite 41-year-old Black woman? Then again, no one can outrun a bullet.
When I go running, to keep my breath stable (knowing how to breathe as a long-distance runner is an art as much as it is a trained skill), I silently sing an old military cadence to myself.
“Am I right or wrong, your right”
“Tell me if I’m wrong, your right”
“1,2,3,4 –1,2, let’s go”
Today during my run I wondered if Ahmaud had a cadence when he would go running.
Was he humming it to himself when he was innocently taking his last run?
Did he negotiate with God when his cadence was interrupted?
Sadly, it wouldn’t have mattered, his murderers were out for Black blood.
One of the thoughts that I didn’t include in my Zora article was the idea that it’s not just the Proud Boys in pick-up trucks that blaze past me on my runs that frighten me, it’s the police cars hitting 75 MPH on a 30 MPH street. Always speeding for no apparent reason.
All year I’ve thought out the times I’ve been running and saw police officers (often State Troopers) pulling over Black and Latinx drivers. Considering that I run on a plain dirt road, there is no obvious due cause for these drivers to have been pulled over.
Except, you and I know why.
People of color every day are killed and brutalized by the police while just walking home, sitting in their car, or standing in the parking lot of their church. Running isn’t a far stretch from any of those.
Right after my Mom passed away I would go on these super long runs to test my endurance.
When muscle failure would want to set in on mile ten out of twelve I would hear my mother’s spirit saying, “Choliaaaaaaa. You better run.” Her voice would wave over other stadium attendees during my track meets in high school and college. Her spiritual call-to-action would give me the juice I needed to push through it.
However, during my run today I spiritually heard a new voice.
It was Ahmaud saying, “keep going baby girl, push it young sistah.”
And you know what, that activated me big time. I ran so well today I could’ve been on a 1985 Wheaties box. It was a beautiful boost and surprise. I was able to finish my run stronger than ever.
Having a strong kick at the end of my runs has always been my x-factor as a long-distance runner. Even if I stay in the middle of the pack for the majority of my run, I can always release my reserves down the home stretch and clench some top spots.
And that’s how I’ve got to embody being Black in America. A Black Runner in America.
I’m meant to stay a middle of the pack runner. Never clutching any top spots.
But the way I felt today, I’m here to win (they won’t even see it coming).
That might sound cheesy and full of hyperbole but that’s where I’m at mentally right now as I type this and massage my hamstrings in-between keystrokes.
Running has been my BFF for decades. And racism has kept America in a chokehold since it was raided by Europeans. Neither one of us seems to be giving up anytime soon.
I’ll be running for me, running for Ahmaud, and running to beat my anxiety as a Black runner until I’m a little old lady.
“I’mma keep running because I quitter don’t quit on themselves.” — Beyonce, FREEDOM from Lemonade.
Rest in POWER Brother Ahmaud (and Thank YOU).
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Cholia “CJ” Johnson is a writer whose work often explores anti-racism. She loves hip-hop, running (duh), chocolate donuts, and the stock market. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, or HERE.