Jason Russell and Ed Walton Founders of Black Men Run
By Jesse Specs Spellman / Photos by Two20 Photography
Fact – Black Men in the United States suffer worse health than any other racial group in America
Fact – Black Men live 7.1years less than any other racial groups in the world
Fact – 40% of Black men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21% of white men.
Black Men Run isn’t a run group that runs for fun. Black Men Run runs because we understand the issues that are happening in our communities and where they can help those in need that want to better their health and wellness not only for themselves but for others as well. Black Men Run runs to defy all the statistics that are listed above. I personally never wanted to be a statistic to any of those issues which is why I joined Black Men Run back in 2016. From age 35 to now BMR has personally helped me to be the best that I can currently be. That said, the community of Black Men Run are one of the most solid run groups that any Black male will ever come across. All you have to do is dedicate your time and I can personally guarantee that you’ll see improvements within a few weeks. This month,Mid Strike Magazine has the privilege and joy of speaking to the founders of Black Men Run, Jason Russell and Edward Walton.
MSM: As a member of Black Men Run I can honestly say you guys and this group as a whole have changed my life mentally and physically. Without BMR I would probably be no where close to the health nut that I am now. When Black Men Run first launched did you see this club growing so large so fast?
EW: Honestly no. We knew there was a need but because we don’t recruit per sé, I knew the growth would be slow as getting my brother off the couch would be harder than getting them to stay engaged. One other thing is that we always envisioned Black Men Run as more than a run club. Black Men Run is a social network of impact and influence.
Jason: Ed Walton and I have been friends for years and he actually coached me through my first 10k. We were coworkers and we have also worked together in corporate America and we’ve been partners on other entrepreneurial ventures. He is also the godfather to my son and both of my children call him “Uncle Ed”. We started Black Men Run because it was needed as a vehicle to be put in place for health and wellness in the African American male community.
MSM: Take us through what pre- BMR life was like for both of you. Was running something that was consistent? When did you both launch Black Men Run?
EW: I’ve been a runner all my life. I’ve run from elementary school to high school up to college and into the US Navy. The chance to share my love of the sport is one of the reasons we started BMR in 2013.
MSM: For our readers how did Ed and Jason meet and what were the early conversations in forming Black Men Run?
EW: Both Jason and I are IT professionals and worked together before deciding to form BMR. The conversation was more we knew this thing is needed for our culture but how do we get the word out. Social media (when it was a good thing), was the foundation. We simply told a couple of guys to meet us at a local running trail and BOOM, BMR was formed. I know that is the short version of it. I am saving the long version of the story for the movie.
MSM: Black Men Run has essentially become an international movement from the inception in the Atlanta area all the way to Japan. Did you two feel the reach of BMR would span so far in the run community?
EW: I was sure about the growth (number of members), but I knew our reach would be big because our members are transient and move around. So getting brothers to take the vision with them as they moved in their lives was built into the plan.
MSM: You guys have essentially broken the cycle of how we are seen in the run community. We are not individuals that are unhealthy or unfit as you guys are changing lives for black men, thousands of black men. Showing that it is indeed okay to run and be fit to change the narrative of how we are seen. For our readers take us through some of your personal journeys prior to BMR. Were your experiences something you felt needed to be shared through the BMR experience?
EW: My mother and adoptive mother both died from hyper-tension and a history of high blood pressure. I believed this was the way to save lives by giving black men men an outlet to change their futures lives by changing their present lives. The other reason is that I wanted to show the world that black men can run distance and compete at a very high level.
MSM: How do you feel seeing all the positive progressions of your fellow BMR chapters and peers, have the both of you ever taken a step back to really enjoy the experience and growth of this movement?
EW: PROUD. I wear my BMR shield whenever I can. Jason always says, “The world is watching”. The progress and potential of what we can do is limited only by what we want to do.
MSM: Some of my early struggles as a runner was not seeing runners who were like me on the road. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t take the sport seriously, seeing fast runners that were mostly Kenyans made me feel as if ordinary folks like myself didn’t exist. Was this something that was discussed prior to the launch of Black Men Run?
EW: Yes, mostly by me. I wanted BMR to be competitive for those that wanted to showcase their work and go beyond a casual runner. I still explain to certain “folks” that the winner of a major marathon isn’t African-American and there is a difference. So don’t jump or lump all men of color as “Black”. That is the lazy way out.
MSM: One of the favorite things that I love to touch on is proper representation within the run community. Since the inception of BMR do you feel you have seen more Black men taking part in road racing and running in general not just in the Atlanta area but other major cities and countries?
EW: Yes for sure. Like I said…I wear my shield (gear) with pride. I get people, both men and women that approach me and say thank you for starting BMR. They say that it changed their lives or their spouse’s lives. I am always approachable and will talk to anybody that wants to know more about BMR.
MSM: As we all know with our history being Black, we don’t have equal rights, we don’t have a fair justice system, we are policed differently, and we are abused by the systemic racism that is currently in place. Mentally this takes a toll and simply put, being Black can be exhausting, mentally and physically. It states on the BMR mission
“Research tells us that running on a regular basis not only benefits individuals from a physical standpoint but also increases mental sharpness. Studies show that running on a regular basis helps to boost your confidence, relieves stress and eliminates depression”.
I’d like to touch on the depression and mental health topics because these are discussions that we as Black men need to have. Have the both of you found yourselves being more open to these issues that we struggle with your peers? Discussing issues while using running as a tool to do so?
EW: For sure. Mental health is one of our major outreaches and we understand that a sound mind needs a sound body to fight off the things that shorten our lives, reduce our confidence and affect us in a manner that is multiplied by the systemic racism and injustice of this country. BMR is a safe place for brothers to come together and expel some of the stress that only a Black man in this country can understand.
MSM: With the state of this country it’s becoming even more important to come together as Black men and not against each other. What are some of the things you’ve been doing to change this narrative while also having the necessary dialog not only within our communities but also outside our communities.
EW: This is easy. Our charter and mission are based on these simple items.
- Be a healthy brother.
- No man is left behind
- Have (M)oderation in your life
- Be (A)ccountable (to yourself and your brother that depend on you)
- Be (C)onsistent
- Share and don’t just take. There is honor in serving and sharing.
I wanted to make sure BMR was something that would change the way running was approached by African-American men. We are looking at doing other things that don’t look or sound like a run club. Ideas for 2021 and 2022 are:
1. A BMR member job board…think Black LinkedIn.
2. A BMR internal service portal. ..think Black Angieslist.
3. A BMR goods portal…think Craigslist.
A BMR skills / education initiate. We will have master classes so that our members can teach others about their skills and business
MSM: For our readers that may not have access to Black run clubs where they are from, what are the steps for those that are curious in starting their own Black Men Run chapters in their city?
EW: We have a process to evaluate where to start new chapters. Our COO and National Captain is in charge of that. It varies as we don’t recruit, so the need and ask needs to present itself. Location is a factor, and if we think the chapter captain will be a good leader of men. We look for leadership in our choice for a captain. It is never based on how fast or good you are. We look for leadership qualities that will allow that leader to lead other men.
We have found out the hard way that the better the runner the worst the person is for chapter leadership. It has to be about the brothers and not the captain of the chapter. We ask questions about their community involvement, what skills they have in their professional life, etc. In short, we look for well rounded men. One thing that we always try to do is build leadership from within. We groom all of our vice-captains to one day take over the chapters they are in or if they move to a region and want to start a chapter. We have declined some requests because the timing, region or the person wasn’t a good fit.
MSM: BMR is a brotherhood, a team, and a family, one that pushes each other to be better both physically and mentally and fast (lol). Venoms vs Mongooses a fun rivalry against fellow members and chapters within the group. Take us through those fun and fast challenges within the group. What and how each were created as an extension of the BMR brand.
EW: LOL. I started the rivalry primary to get us out and in front of other organizations that used to think BMR was a fad. We proved that we could compete. The Deadly Venoms was my idea to name our group of runners that were over 40 years old but could still bring it.
The Savage Mongooses were the top runners out of North Carolina that we wanted a friendly completion against. It quickly became popular and everyone loved seeing the back and forth. I am an “ish” talker and welcome the chance to get out there and back it up. It helped bring some of our more competitive runners out and highlight the talent that is in
It was my attempt to make it fun to race each other and get bragging rights to each group every year. Let me give you some names from some of the guys and you will see it took off.
The Deadly Venoms:
- Edward – Hydra
- Philip – Spider Venom
- Glenn – Death Strictor
- Orinthal – Psyco Serpent
- Lamar – Beared Dragon
- Dwight – Puff Adder
- William – Komodo Dragon
- Sonni – Murder Hornet
- Kenny – The Red Scorpion
- Kayre – Black Manta
- Jose – Copperhead
- C.J – Gator Man
- Tahir – Kobra Khan
- Terry – Gila Monster
The Savage Mongoose Squad:
- Darius – The Quiet Cadence
- Tyre’K – Fearless King
- Neville – Wood
- Junior – Who Shot JR
- Shawne – Ghost
- James – UrbanRunner
- Jay – White Shadow
- Stefan – ShockWave
- Ricky – Trail Blazer
- Marvin – Jedi
- Will – Will 2 Win
- Brandon – Cardio King
- CJ Langley – The MAN
Stroke Survivor Jason Russell
MSM: Jason a few years ago you gave us a scare health wise as you suffered a stroke. Was this something you felt crept up on you? Take us through that entire process and that experience. How was your recovery? Was being a runner something that helped you get back to where you are now? Understanding that it is a process, a marathon essentially.
Jason: I had a life changing health scare in 2017 when I suffered a stroke at my desk at work. I have been told by a former co-worker who was the first person that came to my aid that he heard a thud and I was on the floor. Immediately he came to me and asked if I was okay. I was a little disoriented so he asked me if I knew my name and where I was. I was able to respond correctly but slowly. They then placed a jacket under my head to get it off the floor. They asked me if I was in pain and I responded incoherently. My speech started to be unrecognizable. I was asked by him to squeeze both my hands with each of his hands and he noticed I was not able to squeeze one of his hands.
I started to lose cognition and after a few seconds started to aspirate. They turned me over to his side to avoid choking. They continued to talk to me to maintain consciousness until the paramedics arrived and gurneyed me out. I was rushed to Grady Hospital and was there for weeks while they treated a brain bleed and the after effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). During my time at Grady, my wife started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of me running again and by the grace of God I was able to leave the hospital and continue my journey to recovery.
I feel like being a runner has been an integral part of my recovery and ongoing rehabilitation. After the stroke, the severity and the impact on my brain resulted in a ruptured brain aneurysm. A brain aneurysm can leak or rupture, causing bleeding into the brain (a hemorrhagic stroke). I had to relearn how to walk, talk, AND RUN. I am forever thankful and thoughtful for my ongoing support and recovery. To this day, I make an effort to go for a run daily to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I also better monitor my diet and stress level. I have been told that my recovery was a miracle and I owe a lot of that to my conditioning prior to my stroke. My Father who was my catalyst for running also suffered a stroke and is recovering well.
MSM: I don’t think I’ve ever seen the dynamics discussed between the both of you. It seems you both are polar opposites of each other, you (Ed) are outgoing and Jason you seem to be the laid back type but the both of you mesh well. For our readers what’s the relationship like between the both of you?
EW:I think you hit it on the head. CMO = Chief Motivation Officer means get out there and get in front. Jason is a good counter to my crazy. He puts process into everything.
MSM: What are some inspirations? The both of you are essentially pillars in the run community as Black men and I am sure people look up to you. Where do Ed and Jason find the inspiration to consistently lace up the sneakers and go each day?
EW: I get it from BMR. I see my brothers and I know that someone is looking at what I am doing. I am a member and not just one of the founders….I think that is a commercial right? But seriously, I believe in leading by example and not by giving examples.
MSM: With the brand growing so large and in so many cities within the states are there any chances we would see a BMR race event or two day race series that’s put together by Black Men Run?
EW: Sooner than you think. We have all the pieces and we thought 2021 was the year but with the pandemic we are looking to 2022. Yes it is coming and we will put on a first class affair.
“For sure. Mental health is one of our major out-reaches and we understand that a sound mind needs a sound body to fight off the things that shorten our lives, reduce our confidence and affect “US” in a manner that is multiplied by the systemic racism and injustice of this country. BMR is a safe place for brothers to come together and expel some of the stress that only a black man in this country can understand”.
MSM: Two fold question here, What does the future hold for both of you? Second, where do you see the BMR brand going in the next few years?
EW: My day job is my Cyber-Security business that I own. It keeps me hopping…BMR is my de-stressor (most of the time). As for the next few year with BMR, well our brothers help drive the future of BMR. You are a member, so what do you want to see? We want to make sure that whatever we do, we do because it makes the brotherhood better, which is not saying bigger or expanding.
MSM: The brand is usually represented with some cool merch and fresh drops from time to time. For runners that want to represent the brand how/when and where can they purchase some fresh gear?
EW: Check our gear page blkmenrunshop.com or if you see me and I have an extra shirt on me. I will just give it to you if you ask.
MSM: I think I speak for everyone when I can say as myself being a member of BMR we thank you for creating this journey back in 2013. It’s one of the best run families I’ve been a part of as I cannot see myself repping any other brand at large races. Usually at this point we love to leave the floor open to you both. Any last words you’d like to share with our readers?
EW: Yes, thank you for allowing me to lead and giving our idea a voice and a presence. BMR is here and getting better because it is needed and because we have brothers and supporters like MSM that continue to challenge the norm and challenge us.