“Black girls don’t run,” most urbanites say almost reflexively.
You wanna bet? Try telling that popular but erroneous belief to Ashley Hicks and Tony Carey. Better yet, why don’t you ask the 150,000 mostly African American women who have joined their nonprofit organization, Black Girls RUN!, nationwide.
One day, Hicks and Carey began running for their lives — running because they wanted lives that would be healthier, longer, more fulfilling, more invigorating and inspirational to others around them. This seemingly innocent, innocuous concept was birthed in Atlanta and has exploded into an American phenomenon.
The manifestation of Hicks’ and Carey’s small dream into a cross-continental juggernaut consisting of more than 150,000 members with 73 chapters was, and remains, beyond their initial comprehension. It was also unfathomable to them at that time eight years ago that they would share the stage with one of the most famous and influential women in the world, Oprah Winfrey, all while being showered in a roof-rattling standing ovation.
Hicks and Carey were honored with the inaugural Toyota O-Vation Award for the meteoric success of their Black Girls RUN! organization during Oprah Winfrey’s “The Life You Want Weekend” Tour in Atlanta.
Toyota’s “Standing O-Vation” ambassador Amy Purdy, a remarkable woman in her own right, bestowed the award to the pair and got emotional herself, saying “I’m about to cry myself because I run a nonprofit organization myself and know how challenging it can be,” she said as she presented the women a $25,000 grant.
“This is to help you expand the reach of your organization to continue to motivate women all over the country,” exclaimed Oprah. “Congratulations, Toni and Ashley and Black Girls ROCK! Thank you for being an inspiration and thank you, Toyota,” she said as the arena erupted in another rousing ovation.
Backstage, Hicks and Ashley still seemed so high off the moment that they could have levitated right off the ground.
“We are still in shock at what happened tonight and cannot believe we were chosen to receive this once-in-a-lifetime honor,” said Hicks, whose running code name is “The Dreamer” and boasting the running level of “Intermediate.”
Her partner and cofounder Carey added that an cited a shocking CDC statistic as motivation for starting and growing this organization.
”Eighty percent of African-American women suffer from obesity, and this group was a way to get women moving. This honor gives us the opportunity to take Black Girls RUN! to the next level, allowing us to serve our community even further,” Carey said, whose running code name is “Turtle ” and running level is “Beginner.”
Black Girls ROCK!’s infancy began eight years ago when Carey and Hicks wanted to get in shape after college. The mission of Black Girls RUN! is to encourage African-American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority.
“After that just blogged about it and used it to get information out there to our community about running and working out to be healthy,” the pair said.
Something wonderfully unique happened as the organization and blog got off the ground. Hicks’ and Carey’s Black Girls RUN! blog touched a nerve among urban sophisticates nationwide and the blog went viral. Running groups began sprouting around the country like dandelions.
“We have over 150,000 members all over the country,” said Hicks. “The impact that Black Girls ROCK! has had has been amazing.”
Women told how their lives were changed in poignant and powerful testimonials: ‘Black Girls Run’ saved my life,” said one participant. “Now, two of my children run. I feel like a real mother,” she continued between tears. “I just want to be an awesome role model to my children. This is no ordinary running group. Black Girls Run helped me love myself again.”
For more information about Black Girls RUN!, or to join and contribute, log onto www.blackgirlsrun.com.
Photos by Terry Shropshire and Courtney Teague