As Beantown prepares for its global annual commemorative event on Monday, spectators and runners may notice the Boston Marathon pushing past a new type of wall.
The change with the world’s oldest contested marathon has become even more dramatic with the race’s return to a live event after a two-and-a-half-year pandemic.
The opening ceremony on Friday recognized 12 organizations that welcomed color runners, including Black Men Run and Black Girls Run, and announced collective donations of $ 125,000 to groups doing what Boston clubs say they did not: welcomed black and brown runners and potential runners. The ceremony also paid tribute to the late two-time Boston winner Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, an Indian-American runner who is largely unsung. On Sunday, the National Association of Black Marathoners (NBMA) will announce a major project largely funded by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the parent organization of the marathon. And banners on Monday’s race track that winds from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Copley Square in downtown will celebrate Indigenous Day, known to some as Columbus Day.
A marathon official says the BAA has been working to increase reach and diversity.
“During the pandemic, we needed time to strengthen relationships because we wanted to be more intentional,” said Suzanne Jones Walmsley, BAA’s director of youth and community engagement, whose position was created in 2014 to build better ties with the black and brown community. Boston Subway.
The running organization has created the Boston Racing Collaboration, a coalition between the BAA and color running organizations. The collaboration will open links for communities that feel excluded from sports. The group is in the initial phase and is still being felt, said Jones Walmsley.
She told the Guardian that the BAA was further motivated to improve reach by the deaths of Ahmaud Arberi, in February 2020, of an unarmed Montenegrin who was killed while fleeing, and the killings of George Floyd in May 2020, an unarmed Black Minneapolis man who died under a police officer’s knee. who was convicted. Both cases were committed by protesters because of a magnifying glass about domestic racism.
In particular, the Arberi case opened a discussion of black runners who said that they often feel insecure and are viewed with suspicion.
“It gives you a new focus, especially when you look at Arberi, who was a runner,” said Jones Walmbley. “It was a real wake-up call. It helped us move a little faster. “
The changes are significant not only for the wider community, but also for society, given Boston’s reputation – deserving or not – as a racist city. They mean that the unsung black-and-brown running heroes will get the recognition they missed, and the colored runners will feel welcome in the racing community. Because the marathon is such a strong part of Boston’s identity, changes to the race could also affect Boston’s reputation.
Of course, blacks have made significant progress in the city of 684,000 inhabitants and its suburbs. But history shows that Boston had problems with race. In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legalize slavery. From 1974 to 1976, white Bostonians reacted violently to federal orders to desegregate schools and drew national attention to the city’s racial divisions. In 1989, the late white Charles Stuart drew more negative attention to the city when he blamed a fictional black man for the murder of his wife.
There are also anecdotes. The late Ted Corbitt, a black Olympian, a pioneer in running track measurement and the founder of the president of the New York Road Runners (the parent organization for the TCS New York City Marathon), was named N-word while attending a conference of the American Runners Club. in the late 1960s in Boston, according to his son, historian Gary Corbitt. In 2013, in the year of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the spectator was the Olympian and winner of the Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi, an American from Eritrea. When he tried to fly home to San Diego, Homeland Security officials began to burn him. He was rescued by some fans who stopped to get an autograph.
Even in recent years, marketing and events around the race have included little that would make color runners feel recognized, said Dr. Tiffany Gaile Chenault, a black runner, sociology professor and co-ambassador in the Boston’s Black Run Run chapter.
“Every year you walk through the city and there are these signs on them (with the marathon logo) – you don’t see people in color on them – they are always white men and white women,” said Chenault, 47, who lives in Boston. “They will have athletes with disabilities and it is still white. They will have couples running together, holding hands. “It’s still white,” she said.
“It’s like we’re second,” Chenault said. “And for so many people in certain neighborhoods, mostly black neighborhoods, it’s like the Boston Marathon is coming.” Very important.”
Chenault and other leading color leaders said they were glad to see BAA’s progress. Anthony Reed, co-founder of the 17-year-old National Association of Black Marathoners, said his relationship with the running organization has strengthened. “It’s almost like two people are having fun,” Reed said. “It takes time to really get to know and understand a person or an organization.”
During its annual meeting at the Boston Marathon this week, the NBMA will announce a post-production documentary called Breaking Three Hours that presents audiences with nine unsung champions of black women at a distance. Reed, 66, of Dallas and a veteran of the 131 marathon said the BAA is a big sponsor.
“I gave them a documentary,” Reed recalled. “They said five minutes after the presentation: ‘We have reviewed all the documentation, the storyboard for your proposal and we want to support you.'”
There are also more positive movements. The BAA and the black community have teamed up with the Dimock Center, a health center in the predominantly black neighborhood of Rockbury, to produce the seventh annual Road to Wellness 5K.
Proponents of color runners say they will make sure the changes continue to happen.
“The BAA has been progressive and I feel that they, the leadership, will do the right thing in preserving history – I had their support,” said Gary Corbitt, 70, of Jacksonville, Florida, who worked with the organization to preserve his father’s legacy.
“We have to keep everyone’s feet up to fire,” Corbitt said.