A national effort is under way to improve the health of African American women by encouraging them to join local running groups, one of which is jogging through the Southland.
"We’re changing lives. This has been a movement," said Akilah Calhoun, ambassador for Black Girls Run.
"Black Girls Run is really about getting African American women resources and encouragement to adopt a healthy lifestyle."
Making fitness a priority is especially critical for black women, who as a group have the highest rates of obesity in the country.
Health experts say nearly 80 percent of black women are overweight or obese. And being overweight can lead to chronic health problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
A movement about moving, Black Girls Run is determined to inspire change. Member Belinda Tucker said that is part of what motivated her to run.
"We would like to change the behavior of a whole group of people, one woman at a time," she said.
But for people who are overwhelmed about running, Calhoun insists that Black Girls Run is not exclusively about running.
"Walking before you run is really our motto," Calhoun said. "We don’t want women to be intimidated."
Wendy Walker agrees.
"If you think, hey, I can run as far as I’d like to and then I can go into a fast walk, it really helps your confidence," she said.
Running with Black Girls Run is a group experience that celebrates each individual achievement.
Like many of the women in the group, Dionne Scrivens had never run before joining Black Girls Run.
"I never walked, ran, and did anything," she said. "I was a complete couch potato. Now, I look forward to the weekly runs."
Established in 2009, BGR boasts 69 running groups across the country. Many of the women involved say that running with a group can be more motivating and fun than running by themselves.
"When you run by yourself it’s one thing, but when you have a group behind you, you feel like you can do so much more," said Ebony Martin.
The course run in Carson is nearly 3 miles long. It is a time for the ladies to work on their stride, release stress and connect with each other. However, according to BGR member Gina Thomas Sanford, it is not a time for small talk.
"We talk about running and trying to make it to the end," she said.
Just the thought of it makes her collapse into grateful laughter.
"Thank you Lord, I made it to the end. I made it to the end!"
When the ladies reach the end of the course, they run through a "cheer tunnel." The women line up and shout each other in. There are high fives and the wild ringing of an oddly inspiring cowbell.
DeLania Braden said she feels great when she crosses the finish line.
"My blood is pumping. I’m hungry. I feel a sense of accomplishment," she said. "I’ve never been a runner before but BGR has brought me out and there is no stopping."
Braden is now preparing to run her first 5k race in April.
These women connect through sweat, a real commitment to their own health and the hope that their example will encourage others.
As they round up to say good night, Calhoun congratulates the ladies, and looks ahead.
"Good job tonight, ladies. So good to see you; see you next week."