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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

This West Side Running Group Logs Miles To Fuel Their Activism, Promote Black Self-Love

The Run Your Hood group runs as an act of radical self-care. "Tearing down systemic racism isn't a sprint. It's a marathon," said founder Dyani Cox.

Run Your Hood founder Dyani Cox running at the Westinghouse track.
Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago
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GARFIELD PARK — There’s a new runners community on the West Side, but they’re not just running for exercise: This group is running for the revolution.

Run Your Hood was created as a group for Black runners and non-Black allies. They use training as a way to nurture the body, feed the mind and build a supportive community engaged in the struggles faced by Black people.

In a world built on systems designed to exploit and diminish Black people, the experience of Black joy itself is a form of resistance in the face of white supremacy, said group founder Dyani Camika Cox.

“Just the very act of loving yourself, taking care of yourself, showering love upon yourself is revolutionary,” Cox said.

Cox has been running her whole life. She learned to run from her father, a member of the Black Panther Party, who ran 7 miles daily.

From him, Cox learned running is a way to take ownership over herself, something so often denied to Black people. Running gave her agency over her body and over her mental health, which became the lynchpin to her recovery from a bout of severe depression in her youth.

“He taught me how to be free,” Cox said. “And it’s something that I really want to teach my people, my Black people. That we don’t have to succumb to anything that is put upon us.

“We don’t have to succumb to addiction. We don’t have to succumb to mental health issues. We don’t have to succumb to self-hatred. We don’t have to succumb to oppression.”

Dyani Cox with her father.

Running through the Garfield Park neighborhood also gives residents a chance to more intimately know their community.

Cox wants to demystify the West Side since so many people assume there is nothing but gang violence and empty lots in the area. Those assumptions become self-fulfilling by scaring away commerce and preventing people from being engaged in their neighborhood, Cox said.

“I want them to see the beauty of our communities,” Cox said. “Running for me is getting to know my community and my community getting to know me.”

Danielle Tate, a new club member, said she isn’t much of a runner, but she joined because she wanted to build relationships with others in Garfield Park. Tate said the community gets overlooked too often, but by running through the area she is able to notice new things about the neighborhood she loves that she wouldn’t have seen even if she were driving.

David and Josie McKay moved to Garfield Park in 2017 and started training with Run Your Hood as a way to get involved and contribute to the neighborhood. They said they run in solidarity with the longstanding Black community, mindful of the gentrification people fear will change East Garfield Park.

Another new member, Chris Kyles, joined the group to run in celebration of Juneteenth. Like Tate, he participated because he wanted to connect with others who were actively invested in bettering Garfield Park.

“I was excited when I saw the group because I see running as a great way to build community,” Kyles said.

Self-ownership instilled in Cox a belief that, to create change and build power in the world, she would first have to build the discipline and willpower to mobilize herself.

“In order to take ownership over a group of people, you have to first take ownership over yourself,” Cox said. “Running my hood, and people seeing me taking care of myself every day is revolutionary. It gives them permission to love themselves and take care of themselves, too.”

That practice of self-love is infectious, Cox said. It branches out into a deeper love for the family, love for the neighbors, a love for the community and the will to envision a world organized around love rather than violence.

Unless people are able to show up to take care of themselves, they won’t be equipped to show up for each other, for their community or for the social change the world needs, Cox said.

Cox said building the solidarity to overcome the many struggles facing Black people is a years-long process. But running is perfect practice for the revolution: It is always uncomfortable, and it takes tremendous willpower to keep going each day.

“Tearing down systemic racism isn’t a sprint,” Cox said. “It’s a marathon. It is something that we have to develop the mental strength to continue to hold the people around us accountable.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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