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South Central Run Club Creates ‘Anti-Turkey Trot’ Thanksgiving Run

A Los Angeles run club is rethinking the annual turkey trot and celebrating the resiliency of South Central.

On Saturday night, the streets of South Central Los Angeles were run by participants of the second annual F*** White Supremacy 5K. The race, formed as an “anti-turkey trot” by the South Central Run Club, hosted close to 100 people. The goal? Start critical conversations while celebrating the resilience of a community that until recently, didn’t offer outlets for runners. 

On November 19, the 5K made a statement not only in name but also for those who participated, with some locals running in their own neighborhood for the first time ever. After the race, which took runners to the University of Southern California and back, participants enjoyed an afterparty that included a DJ, food vendors, and a local artists showcase.

For South Central Run Club co-captains Zaakiyah Brisker and Jazmin Garcia, the event marked another major step forward in efforts to heal their community through running. “A lot of times, you can get discouraged and believe that people don't care,” Brisker told Runner’s World. “I really am so grateful for everybody who was courageous enough to say, ‘let's do it,’ because we all deserve to feel good.”

Forming a running community where it’s needed

When Brisker started running, the South Central resident frequented groups that met on the west side of Los Angeles. Soon Brisker realized she was far from the only person who had to travel outside of her South Central neighborhood to participate in LA-area run groups. In 2018, when she started running in her South Central neighborhood more often, she received a surprising reception. She said people rooted for her as she passed by, unlike on the west side, where running is more popular as a form of exercise. At that moment, she wondered why a run club didn’t exist in South Central, where she knew it could thrive. 

As a first step, Brisker tried to create an Instagram account under the name South Central Run Club, but the title was already taken. So, she reached out and met the group founder, Garcia, who had the same idea earlier on.

Garcia's running journey began in 2018 when she started attending group runs with her sister and friends. But again, those groups always met outside of her South Central community, and she wanted to change that. Garcia, who also grew up in the area, created the account and invited her neighbors of all ages and abilities to join for weekly runs. Brisker joined too.

In 2020, the pandemic paused the group's efforts. But another chance meeting between Brisker and Garcia kicked things off once again. After the duo reunited while working for a local nonprofit, they decided to combine their visions for the run club. 

“South Central has a lot of amazing history of resistance. Sometimes you can walk by something, and you don't know the historical importance of a place,” Garcia told Runner’s World. “We really wanted to highlight those things and have a space where people feel comfortable to come together, run and stretch, and learn a little bit more about our own community.” 

Creating space for healing

In early 2021, they brought the run club back with in-person group meetings. On every run, the captains lead the group in discussions based on a different location that holds historical significance. With each gathering, they hope to expand on the mainstream narrative that's been told about South Central. As Brisker explained, most people's perception of the area is based on hip hop influences and films like Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood, but there are many more stories to be told. “People have created this narrative about South Central that it's impoverished, there's a lot of gang violence and all this other stuff,” she said. “But there are real people from South Central thriving and existing.”

The club focuses on promoting health and wellness in the South Central community by offering initiatives that introduce the sport and make it accessible for all. They host a walk-to-run program and family days, where members are encouraged to bring family members young and old so they can learn to enjoy running and encourage each other to keep it up. 

One of the family days is held at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, which used to be where metro buses were repaired. Like everything they do, picking the park as a meeting spot was done with intention. “It was a place that caused pollution in our community. It's been a few years now, but they cleaned up the space and transformed it into this beautiful park,” Garcia said. “Every time we start there, we like to say that we see this as a metaphor for the work that we're doing, that the transformation for wellness comes from us.”

Rooted in social impact initiatives, the run club highlights the diversity of the neighborhood by drawing attention to local landmarks, including schools, businesses, and places where critical conversations can be had, Brisker said, “We can expose areas that need to be healed so we can come together better as a community.”

For example, the group often meets for runs in front of public schools that were attended by members of the club. Before the run starts, former students are invited to speak on their experience in the American education system, which often neglects the histories of people in underrepresented groups. “You walk out [of these institutions] feeling super alienated because you can't see yourself in history," Brisker said. “We speak to that. We say those things out loud and validate the experience for a lot of people who run with us.”

Celebrating the resilience of South Central

In the same vein, Brisker and Garcia got into an in-depth conversation ahead of Thanksgiving last year. They discussed the need for more awareness around the Indigenous experience surrounding the holiday, which is considered a day of mourning and protest for many Indigenous people. “There's a lot of pain for people who identify as Indigenous, and on top of that, if you're someone who is from an oppressed community, how can you not relate to feeling like no one is talking about your history or that everybody is celebrating around a time when your ancestors had to go through deep pain and traumatic experiences?” Brisker said.

With turkey trots being the most popular footrace in the country, Brisker and Garcia felt it was the perfect opportunity to address how white supremacy has affected their neighborhood. “Racist policies and white supremacy, like red lining, the amount of ICE presence, and the purposeful disinvestment for decades are directly affecting Black and Brown people in our communities," Garcia said. “We wanted to have that conversation, flip it with the F*** White Supremacy 5K, center the joy of our Black and Brown community, and celebrate our resiliency.”

At the inaugural event in 2021, race organizers brought the community together with local businesses and started a fundraiser aimed to support the wellness needs of 3-6 individuals. This year, the fundraiser continued with a higher goal for grant recipients. At Saturday night’s event, the amount of registrations doubled, and participants outside of South Central were encouraged to take part in a virtual run, so they too can start critical conversations and bring healing to their communities.

(11/26/2022) Views: 622 ⚡AMP
by Runner’s World

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