American Voices: Alison Desir Talks Leading A ‘Women’s Rights’ Marathon From Harlem To DC 

Rachaell Davis Nov, 01, 2017

Activist, athlete and visionary Alison Desir etched her spot in history this past January when she led a group of runners from New York City to Washington, DC in support of women’s rights. Now, she’s sharing some of the backstory behind the initiative as part of the TIME Inc. American Voices video series.

Over the course of the last four years, Desir has brought inspiration and unity to her community through her organization Harlem Run, which acted as the vehicle for the monumental movement that saw people join in along the way as she led them some 250 miles to the nation’s capital. After going through a period of depression following a difficult break up and the death of her father, the proud Harlem native started the organization as a safe space for release, wellness and purpose.

“Running is the vehicle for social change,” Desir shares in the video.”We could be doing something else but, running holds us together. It creates connection, it creates community.”

Founded by the 32-year-old trailblazer in 2013, Harlem Run is described as “a collective of runners passionate about running and community.” Hear more of Alison’s empowering backstory in the video above.

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Running is a vehicle for social change. We could be doing something else right? But running pulls us together creates connection, creates community. [MUSIC] In 2012 I was going through a really deep period of depression and really felt like I had no purpose. My friend was training for a marathon. I kept following his journey, and that really struck a chord with me. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I signed up for my first marathon. What I found, almost immediately is that it gave me a sense of structure and this sense of power over myself [MUSIC] And it really changed my perspective. When I got to the finish line, the seeds were planted right then. I thought this could change so many lives. That feeling is really what fuelled Harlem Run. Harlem Run starts every Monday with introductions. All right, who's here for the first time tonight? any first timers? [APPLAUSE] [APPLAUSE] Welcome, welcome. Welcome, one thing I think is really unique about Harlem Run is that it really is an inclusive space for people, all abilities. We don't run with headphones, we're here to share space and inspire people along the way. Run for All Women started around the election. I wanted to get my community involved. I had this idea about running from Harlem to Washington DC for the Women's March. I really wanted to do something meaningful with that, and that's where the fundraising piece came in. I decided that I would fundraise for Planned Parenthood. Women from all over the Country and the World started reaching out, wanting to participate. We did not know any of these people. So, it was a huge leap of faith To set out on this 250-mile journey and hope that it would be supported. It was bigger than anything we ever could have imagined. There were people who were meeting us at 3 o'clock in the morning, people who were cancelling work, mothers who were Were bringing their kids with them, so they could be there the morning of the Women's March. We made it there and there was this beautiful realization that there's so much power in running, and in community. Running has transformed my life. The most important thing that I've recognised is that, when people are willing to be vulnerable and open up, it creates. Really strong bonds of connection and community. [MUSIC]