More Than a Run Crew
From the Nest, Issue 9
by Mohamad Bsat
The very first time I ran with a group of runners was in 2012. I immediately thought, “this shit is too white”.
I had played sports all my life, but this was particularly different, running was a whole new endeavour. I came from basketball, a sport that is rooted in Black culture. Basketball was a sport that I understood, it had people that looked like me and experienced life like me.
When I showed up in 2012 it was different. See, there weren’t people that looked like me. It was hard looking around and figuring out how to fit in, let alone navigating an entirely new experience.
When things aren’t built for you, you can bet, more likely than not, you won’t succeed, let alone even show up. This is an experience that isn’t novel to me, and most people of colour often experience this phenomenon when they enter white dominated spaces.
When I landed in Hamilton in late summer 2018, once again I looked for a group of runners. It felt like 2012 all over again.
Running has all this folklore about running solo and books that romanticize that time alone, but the real magic in running is connecting to a community that believes in uplifting one another. It also helps if the group is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and there are people that look like you. I wanted to inject melanin into running.
We needed to build that, so Air Up There was formed in 2019. While we may not have had the vocabulary to support what we wanted to accomplish, we knew that the run crew had to be more than just running. It had to speak to the disparities that Hamilton sees.
We started small and worked our way through our first year with a core group, the highlight being a panel event we hosted in collaboration with GOODBODYFEEL in November 2019 entitled Women in Running – the aim being to address the disproportionate violence that women face while out running. This is how we wanted to make our crew bigger than just a weekly run group. We knew from the very beginning that it was bigger than running and that running does not exist in a vacuum. Every Saturday we’d meet with the goal of empowering our community, building bridges and fostering inclusion through running.
In 2020, after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, countless incidents of Asian hate and attacks, the ongoing violence against Indigenous women, and attacks on Trans people of colour, we wanted to add in a weekly time slot that focused on empowering Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Colour (BIPOC) in our community.
We titled it Consciousness Raising runs, exclusive to BIPOC and inspired by the work of Black Women feminists in the 60s. The group met weekly to caucus. The goal was to create a temporary antidote to white dominated spaces. The power generated from this group is incalculable and has sent a message to the community that BIPOC belong in running. We were propelled by the activists in our community that understood the importance of fighting for a more anti-racist and anti-oppressive Hamilton.
Groups like Colour the Trails and Brown Girl Outdoor World have been advocating to include people of colour in outdoor spaces and we wanted to bring that same energy to the Hamilton community.
Anti-racism and anti-oppression have been at our core and we wanted to harness that ideology to better support our community through running.
We are here in now in 2021, building and disrupting like we always have. We’ve been engaging our community with the understanding that running does not exist in a vacuum.
Our hope and our mission is for more folks in our community to be inspired to join us, to join our collective and be system disruptors. Running needs that, Hamilton needs that.
Our approach is accessible and we never leave anyone behind. With a running approach based in anti-oppression, you’ll almost forget that you’re out for a run.
Did we mention we also have coffee and cookies after?
Air Up There RC meets every Saturday morning (open to anyone) and Wednesday evenings exclusively for BIPOC. Our group currently meets at the lovely café One for All, but follow us on Instagram as we may change it up here and there.
Mohamad Bsat is a staff lawyer at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, who practices within the housing team; he is a member of a number of ARAO initiatives including the anti-racism and anti-oppression steering committee within the legal clinic, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario’s anti-racism advisory committee, and the Fast and Female Anti-racism and Respect committee; Mohamad is also a member of the Queer Justice Project / Trans ID clinic and has been featured on the recent Nike Canada campaign “you can’t stop us”