Black Men Run Houston offers space for Black fellowship and health

Members of Black Men Run in front of the We Heart Houston sign, including Terry Love, far right. Courtesy of Black Men Run Houston

Terry Love, Jay Perkins and their crew run the streets of Houston.

The captain and co-captain of Black Men Run Houston say running as men of color is a radical act.

For Love, the February 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery had a deep impact, he said. Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and killed by armed civilians while jogging in Georgia.

"I think, 'this could have been me,' and my thoughts after were 'I have to do what I can as BMR Hou captain to ensure that there is a safe space for people that look like me to run.' The movement here has been an inclusion of people who are focused on Black men's health and we're unapologetic about that. We're not saying we don't care about the health of others but we do have a focus."

Black Men Run was founded in 2013 in Atlanta by Jason L. Russell and Edward Walton. It has now grown to more than 50 chapters in the U.S., with international groups as far as Paris and Okinawa.

A July 2019 snapshot shows members of BMR Houston after a Saturday morning run, including Jay Perkins, center. Courtesy of Black Men Run Houston

The team, which initially began as a way to encourage men of color to stay healthy, has now outgrown its original mission.

Love says it's about the brotherhood and the accountability that parallels running with life. Every run is a chance to prove to himself that he can set a goal and accomplish it. The same goes for the runners who join him.

Rohan Walker, a member since 2017, wrote about his reasons for running on BMR's social media, Love shared.

"There is always an additional encouragement and drive that comes from running with folks with similar objectives. The group dynamic is strong and can be a great mechanism for keeping brothers coming back and active.”

This June 2020 photo shows some of Houston's Black Men Run members at the Memorial Park Tennis Center. Courtesy of Black Men Run Houston

On Saturday mornings, they meet at Memorial Park and set off on four- to six-mile runs. They have around 300 members and about 40 active weekly participants. Love says inclusivity is a pillar of their culture, and their members come from all walks of life, from physicians to barbers, with members as young as 11 to 50 years old.

"We also don't want to give off the idea this is just for Black men. Anybody from all running abilities is welcomed. We've even had women show up to run. We want to be tailored to a healthy lifestyle," Love said. "We've done runs for birthdays, milestones, graduations, and even job promotions. We want to celebrate. Running is a part of life and it's deeply ingrained but it isn't our totality."

Montrose Cunningham, who joined in 2016, echoed those sentiments in his own social post, as shared by Love.

Black Men Run Houston members in August 2019 at the Memorial Park Running Trail. Courtesy of Black Men Run Houston

“I run with Black Men Run Houston because it is truly a healthy brotherhood. For me, it's more than just a run group. We've done community projects together, spent time together at social events, go on run trips -something I never saw myself doing when I first started running, and the running level doesn't matter."

Perkins, who's been running since 2015, says his experience as a biracial man and as a consistent runner led him to notice the gaps in run groups tailored to Black men.

"It's about being around like-minded brothers and the fellowship," Perkins said. "Honestly, it's not always about running. It's about getting a group of men together and guiding each other and helping each other. I started running because I was literally killing myself. I would go to the gym but I was eating unhealthy. After a visit with my doctor ... I knew running was going to get me back to where I needed to be."

An October 2020 photo shows members of the Black Men Run Houston group outside the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Houston.

Aside from its runners, BMR Houston also keeps its pulse on the community. In April, the group and sponsors raised almost $4,000 in funds for Letting Everyone Achieve Dreams, a youth prep program that is now sending 18 kids to summer camp with the money.

They're also planning a Freedmen's Town 5k/10k run next year to highlight Black landmarks in Houston. Freedmen's Town was a town where former slaves were able to create a community after slavery ended in Houston's Fourth Ward.

"My focus is getting more people involved," Love said.

"I want people to become more active," Perkins added. "If you want to come out and run with us, join us. I understand running can be intimidating but we're not tailored to one group, one ethnicity or one sex, we're for everyone."

Follow @BlackMenRunHouston on Instagram and the author @RoamFreeWrites on Twitter.