We Are Our Ancestors: An Introduction to the Black Running Organization
By Keron Alleyne
The Black Running Organization, also known as BRO, is a run crew like no other. A safe haven for Black runners, men, and women, and a place where our past and future can grow. Based out in Baltimore City but a strong example to all near and far of the combination of identity, culture, and running. Always highlighting the fact that we are BLACK and powerful-LETSGROW!
Keron: Can you give our readers the background on BRO and how it came into being?
BRO: BRO was created in 2014 to address the lack of organization and collective discipline within the Black community. Baltimore is a running town, the demographic is predominantly Black, and our community needs programs for re-socialization, so we created a running institution for the Black community. We chose running as a platform to appeal to people willing to challenge themselves physically. We promoted and recruited for a year, had a launch party, and have been trailblazing ever since.
Keron: What is the purpose of this organization juxtaposed to other running organizations?
BRO: Well, we represent Black Power first and foremost. We are a Pan-Afrikan organization that serves to organize, educate, and condition Black people exclusively, on the basis of running as a practical demonstration of unity. We are independent, owned, operated, and financed by us. Most other running groups are gentrified, seeking validation through integration, unwilling to hold the cultural and racial line.
Keron: De-colonize running. How do the Brothers and Sisters of BRO do that?
BRO: De-colonizing the mind of the Black runner. Introducing the concept of Revolutionary Run Culture. Many black people believe that distance running is a white-dominated sport. Our truth is that Black people dominate running from distance to speed, and everything in between. We have our own style and differences that need to be exercised. We are less concerned with individual stats and competition and more concerned with the amount of time and distance runners contribute to the collective development of the group. We are refashioning running for Black people…those who choose to subscribe.
Keron: From afar, we’ve seen you pour libations at the beginning of a run (or end), why is that an important practice to uphold?
BRO: As a running organization, our start line is ancestral reverence, and our race is timeless. Ase Hilliard teaches us that “active organization strategies intended to lead African people to command their own socialization process, must build and improve upon distinct African indigenous traditions.” We commence with the libation ritual because it is tradition for us to acknowledge our ancestors and everything significant to our lives, especially when we gather. WE ARE OUR ANCESTORS, and we pour libations to invoke their spirits in our activity. We also acknowledge those who inspire our lives, our supporters, and people not in Baltimore who run with us in spirit.
Keron: What is the organization’s fitness and health goal for each runner that joins your ranks?
BRO: Our goal for each runner is to develop themselves holistically using running and culture as a basis to do so. We offer our runners the opportunity to be a part of a dynamic community that includes people they may not, otherwise, interact with. Joining our ranks is a process, no matter your skill level. That process begins with being courageous enough to show up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to encourage, and be encouraged by the group.
Keron: The BRO Marshals play a significant role, like a Captain, correct? How does this structure enhance your mission?
BRO: Yes, BRO Marshals are the leadership team! Comprised of parents, educators, and athletes, we are responsible for the safety, care, and concern of all runners, and we demonstrate our commitments through action of service. Leadership is an accountability measure for us, ensuring that we work righteously, and creatively to push our people forward. We don’t even encourage our people to follow us, they follow the mission. LETSGROW
Keron: BRO welcomes men and women of all ages and truly looks like a family. How does that synergy help fulfill the purpose of the organization?
BRO: Well, it ain’t Black if it ain’t family time! We represent the whole black family! Ever-strong the Black family! Our purpose is to serve the Black community (man, woman, and child). We don’t promote or condone the new-aged ism-skisms that have black men and women at odds, leaving our babies to be raised by pop-culture, redefining what it means to be Black. We believe Black men and women have a cultural responsibility to each other-to be together. We honor the elders who support us because we learn much from them. And the children are undoubtedly our future and we have no Black future without Black children. So yes, we are traditional in terms of family-style organizing.
Keron: What does the saying, “LETSGROW”, mean to your organization?
BRO: LETSGROW is our family slogan, we use it to affirm the power of our existence. It’s an action verb, that simply means collective development. A one-word catchphrase that activates positive vibes of encouragement, accountability, and inspiration. You will also here us saying the abbreviation “GROW “as an individual shout out or command of action. Our language is codified, people who rock with us begin and end their speech with the affirmation. LETSGROW
Keron: Can you tell us about the group’s run goals and when/where do you meet?
BRO: Around here we do distance, power, and speed. We want our people to get stronger and faster. To fall in love with running. To embrace and endure the struggle of it all. We often say, “Show up to grow up!” You have to be courageous to run with us. Don’t ask too many questions. Use both eyes and ears to listen twice as much as you speak. And we don’t talk too much about running. We offer two main programs, the longstanding Unity Run, held every Saturday at Druid Hill Park, 9 a.m., and the Power Run, for Power Runners, held on Wednesdays at 5 p.m., meet up locations vary. Keep up with us on social media for the details on all events. If you don’t find what you’re looking for and have unanswered questions, just give us a call.
Keron: In your videos posted online, I see a lot of young people in the organization. Do you have a particular interest in making sure the youth are in running?
BRO: Frederick Douglass teaches us that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. In that spirit, we offer youth programing as well. We created the Poet Pride Run Club (PPRC) at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2016-2019. PPRC is a student organization built on running, service learning and college access. Within three years we produced 40 college bound graduates who ran over 3,000 collective miles to better themselves and their community. Some of those former students still run with us and are training to become leaders of the organization. In addition to PPRC graduates, the sons and daughters of our runners continue to grow with us through the years and attempt to outrun us.
Keron: This year has been one like no other. How has the pandemic affected the organization? Have you seen increased interest due to folks wanting to be more fit?
BRO: 2020 has been a progressive and resourceful year for us. As the world gets weirder, we continue to thrive in our traditions. Our increased interest has more to do with community support than people wanting to become more fit. Getting fit is just a part of the deal. We have seen an increase of runners due to the support of community partners working collectively to spread the word. Most importantly, people are becoming clearer about their affiliations and what they represent. Again, we do not represent black lives matter; we represent Revolutionary Run Culture. What we do is authentic and powerful. We don’t use gimmicks for recognition or to further our cause like many of the other crisis opportunist run crews.
Keron: As we pivot towards 2021 in closing out 2020, what can we expect from BRO as a collective?
BRO: Well, Kwanzaa is coming! Every year on the morning of December 26th we host an Umoja Run to kickoff Kwanzaa. Running, singing, gifts, breaking bread, sharing information and stories, it’s a wonderful time of year! Please be sure to join us if you’re in town. For 2021 you can expect us to be gearing up for BRO Day, the holiday we created for Black runners. Held annually on the first Saturday of June, BRO Day is an event to exercise unity and racial solidarity among black runners. We figure if black people can be so on board with running with the world on Global Running Day, then we should be twice-as-pressed to celebrate ourselves on BRO Day. If races open back up, we will be training during marathon season for Black October. During this month we travel to different races every weekend starting with The Race Half-Marathon in Atlanta. We are members of The Unity Collective and staunch supporters of this effort. We believe Black runners have a cultural responsibility to support this race as well as BRO Day. We have new runners that have covered good distance this year, and many of them are ready to take on a marathon. Chicago 2021 is on our radar!
Keron: Any thoughts that you want to add that we may have missed. Please add them here.
BRO: If you’ve ever wondered what you would’ve done during slavery, you’re doing it now. Shout Out to the Pan-Afrikan community of Baltimore! Honor salute to all our runners, friends, family, and true supporters! Mid Strike Magazine, giving thanks for the invitation family! Let’s keep the conversation growing. Love from Baltimore! LETSGROW!
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BRO DAY June 5th 2021
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Founder, BRO Marshal Isa Olufemi
Black Running Organization LETSGROW