My son’s an avid jogger. For him, circling the track in a nearby park enough times to reach his 4-5-mile daily goal is no big deal. Shucks, his jogging regimen was enough motivation for me tojoin him on that track; not as a jogger but, okay, as a 2 mile “fast walker.” Thus, I’d not given more than a passing thought on the inherent dangers of “jogging while Black” until the Ahmaud Arbery story went viral.
“That could have been my son,” was the disconcerting thought – and rage – that unsettled my mind as I watched that sickening video and heard those gunshots that snuffed out that young man’s life.
So in search for the proverbial “shoulder to cry on,” I called my friend Troy in Texas, an unabashed free thinker, writer and doting father of two; a daughter who is an outstanding track performer and an adolescent son who is gradually coming into his own as a budding athlete.
“The killing of the jogger in Georgia had quite an emotional impact on my daughter,” Troy began. “You see, my son was jogging behind her the other day when he fell way behind. It took a while for her to locate him and when she finally got home, she broke down in tears when she thought about her brother being gunned down while jogging like that young man in Georgia.”
Now before I could call others to commiserate with, a national publication came out with a riveting piece, “Running while Black.” It begins, “For many black runners, the killing and its aftermath have shed light on simmering fears of being attacked or racially profiled while running, an anxiety largely undiscussed in the wider running community, but one that is now causing runners of color to think even harder about the decisions they have to make when they go out for a jog.”
“A runner who lives in Atlanta said he feels safe on running trails and paths of his city, but if he runs through more residential and predominantly white neighborhoods, he makes sure to wear brightly colored clothing and sneakers so people can easily identify him as a runner. He intentionally makes additional noise if he sees someone approaching, yelling “hello” or “excuse me” long before it would be necessary, or laughing loudly if he is running with someone else to signal that he is a friendly presence.”
“The killing brought to life what another runner said she faces during a split second of pause — “Is it worth it?” — when she steps outside to go running. The Olympic gold medalist said the activity that has brought her immense joy and professional success is paired with fear. She expressed a similar subconscious protocol, one that’s long been routine. She flashes a smile to passers-by; asks how they are doing and says something about the weather. “I go out of my way to make sure they know I come in peace,” she said.
Further complicating matters is the strong recommendation to don masks.
“What if I catch somebody off guard?” said a Washington D.C. runner where residents have been asked to wear masks when in public. “What are they going to think? It’s not uncommon for black and brown bodies to be looked at as dangerous, and now you see a figure coming at you quickly and they are wearing a face mask.”
Now my burning question to America is this: We African Americans represent 33% of the total US population, yet 60% of COVID-19 related deaths. We’re still the last hired, first fired and vastly overrepresented in the prison system. We still at the bottom of the totem pole in housing, medical care and education.
And before the ink is dried on this piece, more Black lives will likely be snuffed out because they just happen to be in the “wrong place at the wrong time!”
As you finish reading this narrative, understand that we’re weary and running out of answers. So please tell us what are we to do Georgia… what are we to do America?
“Alabama’s gotten me so upset.
Tennessee made me lose my rest.
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.
Alabama’s gotten me so upset.
Tennessee made me lose my rest.
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.”
-“Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simon
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org