Jason Russell’s Story

My dad was always a runner, but he almost never had anyone else to run with. So when I was about ten years old, I started to go running with him—I was his running buddy. Over the years, I kept running mostly as a way to stay healthy. One day, I started doing some research, and I learned about the problem of heart disease in the Black community. Heart disease is the number-one cause of death among Black men, and 60 percent of Black men have some form of cardiovascular disease.

I can speak from experience: In 2017, I was at work, at my desk—I’m a product manager—and suffered a stroke and a brain aneurysm. I was rushed to the hospital and was put in there for weeks while they treated a brain bleed. I’m still doing therapy, and I fight through it. Too many other people are struggling, though, and there’s too much death. Through running, I thought I could help stop the spread of heart disease.

That’s part of what motivated my friend Edward Walton and me to start Black Men Run—a running group just for Black men—in Atlanta in 2013. The first time, we just put up a Facebook post. That was it. But word spread very quickly. In only a few years, we went from the one group in Atlanta to having 53 chapters in 30 states, as well as in Paris and London. We’re international now. The camaraderie feels good. You can see it in the guys’ faces. It just, like, lights you up and keeps you motivated.

We’re also using the run groups as safe spaces to run around with each other, where we do more check-ins and more venting, especially after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Our first run after he was shot to death was very somber. People were saying, “It could’ve been me.” To have a safe space—a true brotherhood—is so important right now to thrive and grow.

We’re changing lives all over the country. I’m still running, too—I ran four miles this morning, and our group still does two runs a week. I’m fortunate: My brother’s a runner now. My son’s a runner. My father, who is also a stroke survivor, still runs, too. I’m proud of that. Being able to run is a blessing.


Erin has been selected as one of the 2024 Be Well Philly Health Hero semi-finalists and we need your help!
It’s up to YOU to vote once a day, every day through 7/29 for our chance to receive $15,000 for TBF.