When you hear the words “black man running,” what comes to mind?
It’s a question Rend Smith and other organizers behind an initiative of the same name are posing through an artistic project, in an effort to start a frank conversation about social justice.
“I’m sure you would get a lot of diverse reactions but it’s easy to imagine how some people would immediately think of a black man running out of fear or aggression, but probably not out of exercise,” Smith said.
Smith is the communications director for Working Narratives, a local organization that helps non-profit and activist groups get their stories out to the public through creative media expression.
The idea for Black Man Running – a series of workshops culminating in a 5K race on Nov. 7 in Hugh MacRae Park—was first borne out of the shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Florida neighborhood in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood’s community watch organization. Smith said the concept was solidified after news the following year that an unarmed former college football player, Jonathan Ferrell, was fatally shot by a Charlotte police officer following a traffic accident.
Since those incidents, many others, similar in outcome, have made headlines across the nation.
“One in three black men can expect to be incarcerated at least once during his lifetime, and unarmed black men and women continue to die at the hands of police,” Charlon Turner, a Black Man Running organizer and outreach coordinator for Working Narratives, said.
Although its name is a tribute to black males like Martin and Ferrell, Black Man Running is an inclusive event meant to engage people of all races, backgrounds and generations, Turner and Smith agreed.
“We want everyone to participate,” Turner noted. “This is about pulling the threads of our community together while taking a hard look at racial injustice.”
And, Smith added, it’s a way to delve into that topic in an unconventional, yet perhaps more relaxed, setting.
“There is a tremendous civil rights movement happening in terms of Black Lives Matter. But not everyone is comfortable going to a rally,” he said. “And we almost exclusively exercise social change through art, when it comes right down to it…To neglect that model would be absolutely insane…We think Black Man Running, as an art project, helps people engage each other and policy makers in a way that is energetic and sustainable.”
Among the sessions included in the Black Man Running series are a drumming workshop, whose participants will have the opportunity to perform what they’ve learned during the 5K race and closing celebration. Working Narratives staff will lead a workshop on how to best utilize media to evoke social change. And Cucalorus artist in residence Jackie Olive will lead a discussion on documentary filmmaking. Olive is currently working to complete her movie, “Always in Season,” about the history of lynching in America.
Tied into the artistic approach to race and identity is a focus on physical fitness, with free weekly fitness classes offered up until November. According to Black Man Running organizers, black males are “facing a stark public health crisis,” as they are more likely to suffer from heart and respiratory diseases and, generally, are more likely to die prematurely.
“This is about how African Americans and in particular, African American males, intersect with public space and specifically how we interpret their actions,” Smith said. “This is to allow people to reimagine African American male masculinity.”
Information about workshops and weekly exercise meet-ups is available on the Black Man Running website.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at email@example.com.