Gathering Again to Celebrate Community
From the Nest, Issue 15
by Mohamad Bsat
In March 2020 everything stopped. We all know the story by now – devastation and pronounced inequality were displayed all around us.
There was a loss of community.
I want folks to be sure that this loss does not compare to what families have experienced in the past two years, but for some the loss of community was detrimental to their health.
The inability to gather in community was heart wrenching. Community was what many folks looked to for support, love, resources, energy and, to be honest, anything they might need in times of anguish.
For runners, this loss was no different.
The run community thrives on the ability to gather. Runners have been gathering for hundreds of years. I’m quite sure when the first runner ran to get his food he was definitely asked how fast he ran, what route he ran on, and the very person asking showed up the following week asking to tag along.
They didn’t have Strava but they could gather and talk about the best way to hunt an antelope.
From time, runners and gathering were synonymous. As a group, we don’t know any other way.
Studies often show that running is made easier in groups. And no one likes to hear about running, unless you’re a runner, so of course runners need to get together and talk about it.
And then, it was all gone. Running, of course, does not exist in a vacuum. There are runners in every community, whether it be Black folks, Indigenous folks, peoples of colour, or white folks. We all lost the ability to come together, in running or outside of running.
We couldn’t even come together to mourn what we had lost. We stayed away from each other, to keep our communities safe. It felt so foreign, staying away from each other to better serve our communities.
We endured and accepted our reality for the past two years.
In the meantime, folks kept running, mostly on their own. We’d see friends out on the streets and we’d send a wave, then wonder when we could pull each other in for a hug.
In March of 2022, we were suddenly given space to be together. You see, Hamilton is host to one of the most storied and iconic races in North America, the Around the Bay Road Race. A race that is Hamilton through and through. Like many events, it was cancelled for the past two years in an effort to keep our community safe.
This year, it was back. The entire running community was elated. It was a chance to gather once again and to reminisce about what we had endured for the past two years. We mourned what we had lost, but also had gratitude for having the space to gather.
The weekend was everything we had hoped for. It was filled with love, community, laughter and the good kind of pain. The type of pain only a race through the hills of the North Shore and Valley Inn Road could make you feel.
We held space for folks that could not be there; most notably, the lovely older lady on Beach Boulevard who would cheer with her fur coat in tow while banging on a pot.
She is no longer with us, but her family brought her spirit along. They set up a chair, a photo of her cheering in her fur coat, and those memorable pots underneath the chair. It was beautiful and painful to run past it.
As part of the weekend, we were hosted by Merit Brewing (one of the best downtown breweries in Hamilton) to put on a panel representative of the folks in the Hamilton community.
On the panel we had two local Olympians, that’s right Olympians, Reid Coolsaet and Krista DuChene walking around among us and even providing free running groups for us to enjoy.
We were also lucky to have two community members with us on the panel, Kavit and Kyle. They spoke about their experiences in the Around the Bay race and what it meant to the city to have it back. It was touching and heartwarming to hear how this race has had such an impact on everyone, even Olympians.
It’s safe to say that it was monumental to the community to have this race (and space) back. Running in Hamilton is brewing something special and being able to come together to see that is special. We needed that.
We all lost something over these last two years – runners know that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Until we gather again.
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”