When unarmed Ahmaud Arbery was chased, shot and killed by White men while on his daily jog in Glynn County, GA, it impacted Black runners all over the nation.
Michael Ganheart, a runner with Black Men Run KC, dreaded having the “running while Black” talk with his sons who were 9 and 5 years old at the time. Since both of the boys truly enjoy running, he knew it was important to have a talk about the precautions they should take while running.
His oldest was scared to run after Ganheart told him about Arbery. Ganheart felt the same after he saw the video footage of Arbery being shot and killed.
“I just told him what I told myself. If this is something you enjoy doing, you have to do everything you can to guard yourself and protect yourself, but you still need to do what you love to do,” Ganheart said. “That was a good lesson – not only for them, but for myself as well. I think they got something very valuable from it.”
To honor Arbery and help keep his memory alive, on Feb. 23, the Ganheart family and other members of Black Men Run KC, joined in the virtual #FinishtheRun, a 2.23 mile run, walk or ride in recognition of the day, Feb. 23, 2020, that Arbery was killed. The run raises money for the 2:23 Foundation – a nonprofit formed in Arbery’s memory, committed to fighting systemic injustices.
A big part of Black Men Run KC’s mission is to make sure Black men have a space where they can be safely active together to prevent another tragedy.
“It could have been any one of us and we just want to speak for Ahmaud and make sure people don’t forget and make sure there’s justice for him and his family,” said Brian Jones, captain of Black Men Run KC. “Even though this has been a tragedy, we try to be a comfort zone for guys trying to get out.”
Growing Runners and Healthy Men
Black Men Run began in 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia and was founded by Jason Russell and Edward Walton to encourage Black men to get out and be active. There are now more than 30 chapters in cities all over the US.
Brian Jones, captain of Black Men Run KC, began the Kansas City chapter in 2014 after he ran with the national group in Georgia. He wanted to create the same brotherhood and camaraderie in KC.
In addition to running, a big focus of Black Men Run KC is on health and wellness. With more than 40% of Black men 20 years old and older having cardiovascular diseases and with heart disease one of the leading causes of death for Black men, the group aims to change those alarming trends while boosting their confidence and relieving stress.
“It’s just important that us as Black men are out doing something and taking charge of our health,” said Jones. Mike Thomas, co-captain of Black Men Run KC first joined the group to train for a marathon.
Jones and other members helped him train and he completed his first marathon in 2017. After that, he was hooked and wanted to achieve more and more.
The group’s private Facebook page was especially helpful for Thomas’ training, where members give each other advice for not just running goals, but also nutrition, how to stay motivated, safety tips and anything else members may be struggling with.
Black Men Run KC welcomes all Black men, despite their level of running experience. They also participate in other activities like yoga, CrossFit training, and cycling.
Building Good Men and Communities
As a club, members of Black Men Run KC are also active in the community. They volunteer with Urban Community Connections and with the Let Me Run Program, they coach young men in preparation for their first 5K race.
“Running is the foundation and backbone (of Black Men Run KC) but it’s not just about building good runners, it’s about building good men and building better communities,” said Ganheart.
While Arbery’s death was a tragedy that sticks in Jones, Ganheart and Thomas’ minds every day they go out for a run, they say they are optimistic about the future. Jones said he sees other running groups working to become more inclusive and diverse, while keeping Arbery’s story at the forefront of their minds.
“We want everyone to know that we will never move on, we will always keep this in our thoughts to make sure this tragedy never happens to a Black man again,” said Ganheart.
Safe Running Tips from Black Men Run KC:
Tell someone where you will be running and when you expect to be back.
Consider sharing your location with them or using a watch with a GPS that will track your route.
Consider running on an indoor track at a community center or gym.
Be sure to make eye contact or wave to people who pass. Be visible. Run with a dog and/or wear reflective gear at night.
Consider running with mace.
Join a running group like Black Men Run KC. If you’re interested in joining Black Men Run KC, join their private Facebook Group for updates on upcoming group runs: www.facebook.com/groups/BMRKansasCity. Or visit their website: blackmenrun.com/blackmenrun-chapters/kansas-city.
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American communities.