Jay Ell Alexander – CEO of Black Girls Run
Black Girls RUN! (BGR!) mission statement states; To encourage African-American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80% of African-American women are overweight. BGR! wants to create a movement to lower that percentage and subsequently, lower the number of women with chronic diseases associated with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle.
The life expectancy of African Americans is so much shorter than any nationality in this country as we simply don’t have the knowledge needed to live our best and most healthy lives. Black women also have to fight so much harder than anyone in this country. What comes with fighting that battle is togetherness and bond that is formed amongst black women. One of those bonds was formed through a women’s running group we all know as Black Girls RUN! founded in 2009. The group has exploded nationally with chapters spread across the United States. This month we chat it up with the CEO of BGR!, Jay Ell Alexander to discuss BGR! life and everything running.
MSM: Welcome to Mid Strike Magazine! For our readers give us a little bit of insight on who Jay Ell Alexander is.
JA: I am a Christian, a wife, and a mom. I have been an entrepreneur for the last three years. I own a public relations business, serve as CEO of Black Girls RUN!, and created the BGR! Foundation. I love running, traveling, and sneakers and am passionate about empowering women to find their potential through the pavement.
MSM: As a runner myself some of the things I struggled with early on was not seeing runners that looked like myself, it was part of the reason I would always start and stop running early on. Were these some of the same feelings you had early on prior to joining Black Girls RUN!?
JA: My motivation to start running was to lose weight. In 2010, I hit a heavier weight after putting on some good happy weight with meeting my now husband and going full time in graduate school. I needed to find something that worked for me and I found it in running. When I signed up for a training team, it was only myself and another Black woman and we instantly gravitated to each other. When I joined Black Girls RUN! in 2011, it definitely was home for me.
MSM: What was life like for Jay Ell prior to 2011, prior to Black Girls Run? Did you always have an interest in running?
JA: Growing up, I was always active. Fitness and health were always important for me and instilled in me by my parents. My parents are in their 70s and still super active playing tennis, roller skating, etc. I was an athlete through grade school, but running long distances was new for me. Prior to joining Black Girls RUN!, I was young and carefree. I was enjoying life, let’s say. I graduated college in 2008 and graduate school in 2010 and had my first real job working in public relations.
MSM: What were your initial thoughts coming into BGR? Sometimes I feel the best ideas for change usually happen on a whim or a single thought which essentially grows exponentially.
JA: I did not know what to expect to be honest. This idea of building a running community to unite black women was a cool idea, but until I saw the magic and energy in person, I did not fully understand the power behind Black Girls RUN!
MSM: What were the first few weeks like for yourself as CEO for the BGR brand? What were the challenges faced early on and how were you able to work through them?
JA: It was exciting but hectic. I was still working a full-time job at the time, and so I was completely overwhelmed. I made more mistakes than I am willing to admit to be honest. I set unrealistic expectations for myself and really took the weight of the organization on my own shoulders, and I had to stop and reevaluate things early on.
MSM: For our readers, they’ll always see or hear me mention these words “PROPER REPRESENTATION” which is something that is sorely needed in our run community even more so with the current state of affairs with the country that we reside in. What are some of your thoughts of how we are represented not only in the run world but in general and what are some of the things you’ve implemented into the BGR brand to help change the ways that black women are seen?
JA: I think the way we are perceived and what is reality is completely different. Black Girls RUN! Has helped to tear down those “norms” of what a runner should be or look like. We have created a unified community that represents a sisterhood full of positivity and motivation. As we continue to change that narrative in the running industry, I hope that also translates to other communities in how they see black women.
MSM: As a member of Black Men Run NYC running/getting miles in with teammates usually ends up creating a brotherhood. I read that you are a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, being a Soror was the sisterhood something you wanted to bring over into the BGR brand?
JA: Yes, I am a proud woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I think the idea of sisterhood is something that I always valued, and that community aspect is the foundation of BGR!. The idea of coming together to create safe and inclusive spaces for black women to be healthy has always been at the forefront.
MSM: We’ve yet to touch on your run journey. You completed your first marathon back in 2014, what made you want to run races? I find that we all say after the first marathon or half that we’ll NEVER do it again but we always do. Take us through your run journey.
JA: I started running in 2010 after putting on some weight in graduate school. I signed up for a local 10K and training team and simply fell in love with the pavement. A year later, I was introduced to Black Girls RUN! In the professional space. As I started to really love the organization and continue running, it was the best of both worlds. I have run numerous races, but yea, one marathon. I do have a goal to do another in 2022.
MSM: BGR has grown exponentially over the years did you think it would expand so large and so fast these past few years?
JA: I honestly did not. But, I have an amazing crew of Ambassadors and run coordinators that have really stepped up to support me and they understand the mission and purpose of BGR!
MSM: A CEO can only be as good as the people he/she surrounds themselves with. I’m pretty sure you have a solid circle both personally and professionally. Tell us about some of the behind the scenes folks that help to keep everything flowing smoothly.
JA: I have a dynamic village. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to sustain a business. The Ambassadors, run coordinators, and our Board of Directors are a group of women that go hard for BGR! And for me as a woman and friend. I do not take that for granted! I can pick up the phone and call any of these women at the drop of the dime – and that relationship and feeling go both ways.
MSM: With that also comes balance, you’re a very proud mama, congratulations. For a person that always seems like she’s on the go where do you find your peace of mind and balance?
JA: I honestly find my peace and balance on the pavement and running. It’s my time to dig deep and push myself. I have some of my best ideas and time to process things while running. Sometimes I get lost in the run…my mind just goes.
MSM: With balance especially as a runner it is a must to have a good support system in place because we are essentially creatures of habit which means when we need to run, running can be our escape, our reset, and most of all our way to relax. What’s the closest support team like for Jay?
JA: My husband and my mom are my Kobe and Shaq for sure. I also have a dynamic family that (pre-COVID) is super close. All of our friends are family and I have a group of girlfriends that will be at my door at the drop of a dime.
MSM: As a runner, we all have things we mentally struggle with. Usually, when that happens our fellow runners tend to snap us back. What are some of the things your fellow BGR sisters have helped you with along your run journey?
JA: I had a short time of postpartum anxiety. I had a hard time adjusting from “just me” to being a mother. My BGR! crew really supported me during this time.
MSM: As you took over as CEO in 2018 what were some of your initial thoughts, what was that process like? I like to say with change usually comes a quiet confident fear. Also, what were some of the ideas you wanted to bring to the brand?
JA: This was an eye opening experience. One of the biggest lessons learned was do not be afraid to ask for help and secondly, business and friendships are never a good mix. The process was easy, but hard at the same time.
MSM: For those that are curious about starting a BGR chapter in a state they’re from what is the process and how do they reach out?
JA: They can head to our website, www.blackgirlsrun.com, to fill out a form and we will follow up as we continue to expand the BGR! Movement.
MSM: What does the future hold for Jay Ell and the BGR brand? What are the chances of us seeing a BGR led race event?
JA: Good question! This new world we live in has presented some new opportunities and things I never imagined for BGR!. We will continue to be a movement and introducing more women to the pavement, expanding to partner with more major brands, our annual conference will return in 2022, and the resources we provide our members will definitely be on another level. Our Foundation has really gained speed over the last year.
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