I Ran With Maud
Over the course of my running “career” I’ve run for many causes, and have accumulated countless tech and cotton t-shirts to show for it. 5ks for breast cancer research, 10ks for local rec and park initiatives, and of course the occasional impromptu track races performed for no other reason than the street cred they produced amongst the athletes I’ve coached.
On Friday though, I didn’t run for a charity, or a fundraiser. I ran for Maud, a young man I’ve never met and yet feel so drawn to.
No official starting line, no medal to proudly drape across my neck once I’d crossed the finish line. No t-shirt to mark the occasion. This run was different. With all of the running events I’ve done over the years, even the 26.2 miles of the marathon distance, the pain in my legs would eventually subside and allow me to walk normally once again, but the heaviness in my heart now following this run feels permanent.
The #irunwithmaud initiative, a 2.23 mile independent start, come-as-you-are run, organized in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, was designed to gain awareness of how the story of a 25 year old, unarmed, black man being gunned down and murdered by two white men near his home in Brunswick, Georgia doesn’t even make the nightly news. Designed to bring awareness to the deep injustice that has been served to Arbery’s memory, his grieving family, and the entire African American community in the wake of Arbery’s murder. A murder where despite video evidence, no arrests had been made in the case until cell phone footage of Arbery being attacked went viral on social media two months later.
This run Friday was more difficult than the 2.23 mile distance might suggest. My heart was heavy. With an early morning start, I finished my run beside a small lake located on the grounds of a local convent. I’d planned it this way. Though I’m not particularly religious, I was desperately searching for some semblance of solace and peace, and the quiet, tranquil field felt right in my efforts. My soul needed time to process things as best it could. I needed space to grieve.
As I sat there along the water’s edge, I thought of the hundreds of black male athletes I’ve coached over the years. The sprinters, the distance runners, the throwers, the jumpers. The boys who have made me laugh when they broke out into a parking lot dance party while waiting for the bus for a track meet. The boys who filled my heart with pride and joy when they hurdled the fence to give me a sweaty post race hug after finally achieving the personal record we had trained months, or even years for together. The boys who would, in just two days time, text me simply to say “Happy Mother’s Day Coach S.”.
The memories of these amazing boys came flooding back, it all just felt so very heavy. And I thought, “How do their mothers do it? How do they send their beautiful babies out the door every single day knowing that statistically speaking they are less likely to return home than my own white sons, simply because the color of their skin is brown? How do they do it?”. My heart ached more and more with every beat that registered on my Garmin watch. I sobbed.
There’s an outcry right now. People are posting, people are running, and perhaps more importantly people are thinking. Thinking about the injustices and inequalities that separate us. Thinking about how the rules of our society are seemingly inherently different depending upon the color of one’s skin. Thinking about how none of this is right.
This internal dialogue is a necessary part of the process. But we must also open up the conversation we are having with ourselves to one another as well. Because the truth is, thinking about Ahmaud, and how terrifying and sad the nature of his murder is, this is only the first step in healing.
Deep healing of racism, intolerance, hate, and ignorance requires much more. So much more.
We must be prudent and diligent as we move forward in our efforts to do so. We must remember that the lessons learned here are not inherent. They must be taught. And just as all impactful education is, these lessons must be repeated, over and over again until the subject matter is rote. Until we as a society no longer try to mentally rectify this injustice in our minds with assumptions of criminal behavior. Until walking into a vacant garage and looking around for a few minutes no longer seems like just cause to be chased in a car by two men with a shotgun and gunned down when trying to leave. When we don’t have to wonder if this same young man had white skin instead, if the outcome would have been different.
I will somewhat shamefully admit that it took time and experiences that only came in adulthood, for me, as a blonde haired, blue eyed white woman to “get it”. To understand the fear, the rage, the hopelessness I’ve seen in the eyes of some of my black male athletes.
I didn’t always understand that not everyone looks at them with the same love and pride as I do. I didn’t always understand the pain they felt being a young black man encouraged and revered when running towards the endzone scoring points for your high school, college, or even professional football team, but could then in the same day, be arrested or shot when running for your life in your own neighborhood. I didn’t understand that the hoodie could feel like a bullseye. I didn’t understand it then. But over the years clarity has come. I see it now. To the extent that I can- I do. And I am so very, deeply sorry that I alone cannot make this better for them.
Though I wish I could have had the capacity to know and fully understand the depths of racially driven social injustice sooner, it is my own journey from ignorant faith to informed awareness that gives me hope. Though once blinded by my own “color blindness”, my ignorance was not ever intentional, nor was it everlasting, which means the same can be true of others as well.
So it is my hope that this run with Maud, and all the energy it has churned, will help to plant the seeds of both personal and societal change across our nation. They are only seeds, though, we must remember this. These are seeds we must continue to water regularly, which we do by encouraging and engaging in the difficult, thought provoking conversations about social justice- what it looks like, what it feels like, and what needs to happen for it to sprout and grow as it should.
This is how we heal. This is how we truly honor Maud and all the thousands of others just like him who deserved better. Because even if you don’t yet “get it”, this is why #BlackLivesMatter.