RUNGRL Is On A Mission To Empower Black Women Through Running

Kimberly Wilson Nov, 01, 2018

When Black women gather, magic happens, and such was the case when Jasmine Nesi and Ashlee Lawson met in 2014 as members of the run club District Running Collective. Running enthusiasts, who wanted to connect with more Black women in the sport, they were tired of not seeing themselves represented at races across the country, and in wellness spaces overall.

So what did they do? They gathered four of their running girlfriends, and formed the Washington D.C. based collective, RUNGRL. The organization was created to inspire, uplift and inform Black women about the power of running. They want Black women to know that they can just lace up their shoes, and walk, run — whatever. Through fitness and fellowship, these six women are on a mission to support everyday women on their journey to becoming their best selves.

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Mission accomplished.

In this interview with ESSENCE, co-founder Jasmine Nesi shares how RUNGRL is impacting lives of Black women everywhere, and what’s next for the brand.

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What was the motivation behind RUNGRL?
I’m one of six co-founders and we all were based in DC, running around the city and traveling for races — both nationally and internationally. That’s how we all met. We saw a void the fact that there were Black women running, but we weren’t represented in how people talk about distance running. We sought to fill that void by creating RUNGRL, so that we could feel represented. And also so that other people who felt the same way could be seen and heard. Our goal is to increase the number of Black women distance runners and to support and create a community for the Black women distance runners that are already out there. We create content, partnerships and experiences that speak to our specific experiences.

#MyRunningHair is a campaign that RUNGRL launched to bring attention to how Black women can reduce hair as a barrier to fitness. What was your own personal journey with your hair? And how did you overcome that to find your passion for running?
I straightened my hair because that’s how I’d grown up, and that’s how my mom, and also the media taught me that Black beauty looked like. It wasn’t until I started running, that I realized that I couldn’t keep running and straightening my hair. The sweat and the heat weren’t working together. For me, that’s what started my natural hair journey. It’s something close to my heart, because I would have never worn my natural hair texture how it looked had it not been for me prioritizing fitness too. We’re all taught that straight hair is beautiful, but if you get your hair straight, don’t you dare workout or sweat or get any type of moisture on it to preserve it. That was the first issue we wanted to tackle, because based on past conversations we had, realized that it was the first thing that came up as a barrier to fitness, and to running and wellness overall. So we provided different ambassadors who had natural hair, weaves, locs, those that straighten their hair and those that get perms — the full spectrum — to show here’s how we do it. And provide tips so that you can see yourself doing them too.

Self-care and self-preservation is necessary for Black women. But as we seek health and wellness options to aid us on our journey of doing so, we often don’t see ourselves represented in those spaces. Why did you want to create a place for black women in wellness to feel welcome?
That’s exact it — because we’re not represented. It doesn’t mean that we’re not doing it. We just don’t have a platform to share our experiences. That’s one of our goals for RUNGRL — to create a platform specifically for Black women to address wellness overall, and running as a means for wellness. We’re there. We’re just not being seen.

What does the RUNGRL community look like?
Our home base is a blog platform, and we live online. We have events as it makes sense. We try to do a series called “Miles and Mimosas” every other month, and we just took RUNGRL on the road for a fall tour. We’re doing 6 cities: Atlanta, Washington D.C. New York, Baltimore, Richmond and Charlotte, to create communities there, so they can connect with one another. But our home base is online. It started on October 21st in New York and it runs through November 17th.

For those that don’t look like the “typical” runner, does RUNGRL offer inclusivity to women of all shapes and sizes that want to start out?
We recognize that. I think it’s easy to reach the people who are already running. It’s also important to reach the people who aren’t but want to. Especially through our events, and our content, we try to represent the full distance running spectrum — from beginner to ultra marathon runner. Specifically for this run tour, we have a 2 to 3 mile run, and all paces and sizes celebrated. We are going to guide you through the entire way. You are not going to be left behind or alone in any way. By creating content that speaks to the beginner, and creating that community, people know that we’ve got their back, and hopefully make people feel more comfortable.