In honor of Black History Month, each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History provides a theme to focus our attention during Black History Month. In 2024, the theme is celebrating the legacy of African Americans and the Arts: Black artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment. Art is the ultimate form of cultural expression, and sport is a performing art in its own right.

Running and racing are a performance and expression of our culture and community: we are powered by the people who paved the way for us to run for competition and joy, who challenged us to excel and strive, and who support the growth behind every result. No athlete steps on a starting line as an isolated individual, but as a representation and hope of their communities past, present, and future. A race is a dedication back to the community and for Black women in American distance running, a courageous step towards expanding diversity in our sport.

Black women are still vastly underrepresented in distance running events in the United States. Systemic racism and stereotypes have created barriers for Black American women to compete in distance races, and contemporary athletes are very much impacted. Opportunities, privilege, and resource access have generational impacts: in a 2020 survey, only 11.1% of current runners nationwide identified as Black.

Running historian Gary Corbitt maintains The List: celebrating the American-born Black women who have broken 3 hours in the marathon. The List currently includes 31 women; by comparison, at the 2022 CIM Marathon (one singular race opportunity) more than 270 women finished in under three hours. Similar disparities exist in the distance events of track and field.

We are honored to support five exceptional Black women athletes challenging norms in the running industry: athletes, advocates, and powerful voices in the sport.

We invited each of them to reflect on their journeys through sport: how their identity has affected their development, and how they hope to impact the rising generation of athletes.

We hope their words inspire you to continue learning, advocating, and supporting the Black-American women in our community.

Left: Portrait of Madie Boreman in a Oiselle uniform. Right: Madie racing the steeplechase

Thriving through multiple marginalized identities is really difficult, and it’s something Black women learn to do at a young age. It took me a lot of time to accept my differences as something positive, but once I began to lean into them I found the parts of my identity that I love the most: my independence, my confidence, and my stubbornness. Each of these characteristics have molded the athlete I am today. They have aided me in the sometimes isolating world of American distance running and kept me grounded in uncomfortable situations.

I feel pressure to succeed and represent for Black women, and especially Black girls, because there are not a lot of us in American elite distance running. With that, I’ve always believed pressure is a privilege, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to hopefully create some cultural significance in this part of the sport.

I want to be one of the first Black women to represent the US at the world level in a distance event, and at the very least, an example to young Black girls that they don't have to be confined to an event or a sport. Going to a race and being one of few Black women can have you question if you belong on the start line, but I promise we do.

Left: Portrait of Kendra Coleman in a Oiselle uniform. Right: Kendra racing the 800 meters

I’m proud to be Black. I’m proud to be a part of our culture and I’m proud to be a Black female athlete.

In the 800 meters the first African American woman to win a gold medal was Maddine Manning-Mims. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and joining her in Bible study at several of our national championships. That’s Black history. Her legacy and determination now lives through all of the African-American women who run middle distance today. I’m forever thankful for her courage and her amazing talent.

As a Black woman in running. I would describe it as bittersweet. When I first started running I grew up in a Hispanic environment and when I ran in college at UT I was met with a majority African American team of women. It was therapeutic in a way to finally be seen and heard in a way I’ve never really felt before. There were things both big and small we bonded over that I rarely got to do back home. Like hair, a small detail to some, but to black women it’s important. Even though maintaining my identity as a mixed girl has always been complicated, I found myself joyous and eager to explore my Black culture more than ever before.

As I turned pro and changed running events, I again was met with another change. Black girls and distance running. One time while I was still getting adjusted to one of my first professional groups one athlete noticed I was putting on sunscreen before a long run and stated out loud: “I didn’t know Black girls wore sunscreen.” I wasn’t exactly shocked but rather speechless. For the most part, the women in professional running are nice and we’re all very determined to reach our goals, which I love, but every once in a while you feel the sting of racism right there in your face. White distance girls are NOT used to running with Black distance girls. Oh yeah.. that’s a thing. As if I was being punished for forgetting that that ugliness still exists in this world. I responded, “yeah I have skin just like you” and of course she redacted her statement and fixed it to what she meant to say. Things like this happen all the time. They are called microaggressions: “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”

So while I’ve found life-long friends in running and even some of my bridesmaids who ran with me in college and professionally; I’ve also seen racism in running. So yes - it’s bittersweet. It’s knowing you’re not getting the same money as a white middle distance runner, it’s knowing you don’t fit the typical fair skin & blonde look some companies are looking for, and it’s literally being twice or three times as good as others to get half the attention or opportunities.

I hope that seeing a Black female athlete like me competing inspires a girl of color to try out for a team, to stay in sports, and to pursue a career in sports!

Left: Brenna Detra racing the 800meter. Right: Portrait of Brenna in her Oiselle uniform

Black History Month is a time to celebrate all historical figures who paved the way for our future generations - to create more opportunities for people of color and minorities.

I would say my relationship with my identity has gone through many phases. As a kid, I didn't see color and was confused as to why I looked different than other girls. My skin and hair texture were different. I never really embraced my full identity. It was almost easier to try to “fit in” with my surroundings. I quickly realized I was too white for the Black girls and too Black for the white girls. As I got older, and learned about my background, I embraced who I was. That being biracial may make me unique. I didn't need to put myself in any category. I was selecting “other” or “multiple races” on applications, and blending my background. Today, I’ll wear multiple hairstyles and hang out with everyone, without feeling like I don’t fit in.

My experience is two-fold. I am biracial (African-American and white), but, growing up in the time I did, it was almost not talked about or acknowledged. A lot of the time- people are questioning my ethnicity. So, I never understood or conceptualized what separates me from the majority. My Mom (thankfully) shielded me from it a lot. As I got older, I started realizing little things in my sport. Few women in coaching. Hardly any WOC. You had to answer to a lot of men - a lot of white men, who didn’t know the first thing about what it was like to be a Black woman in sport. I was often criticized for speaking my mind and told that I had too much “attitude” and boxed into many other stereotypes. It used to bother me quite a bit, but as I grew into myself, I realized that being myself and speaking my mind was never anything to be ashamed of.

My experience makes me approach certain things in the media and racing differently. Especially in the pro world, there are few to no people of color in agencies, coaching, race directing, the media, and more.  I don’t think the media does a great job covering all backgrounds or experiences of POC in the sport. When you see people getting signed, or NIL deals, almost all of the athletes look the same. When you see stories being told, it's always the same types of people telling them.

I’m not sure why, maybe people are more comfortable hearing from people they can relate to, but I’d be a fool to say it doesn't bother me. I feel like I have to work twice, even three times as hard to get the same recognition my competitors get. I don’t think that has changed - it's always been that way in our sport. I have to tap into my competitiveness, what kept me grounded growing up, and my will to reach my goals in sport.

I hope to be influential for biracial girls all over the globe. Always go after your dreams and never be afraid to speak your mind! Never be afraid to embrace both backgrounds - you are all unique.

I want to see the running industry include more people of color (and women!) hold positions of power. Whether in coaching, announcing meets, or social media, we need to have a more visible footprint. While steps have been taken, we still have a ways to go.

Left: Portrait of Carmen Pelar Graves in a Oiselle uniform. Right: Carmen racing the steeplechase.

In high school, I decided to join the track team and naturally gravitated toward the sprints. When I watched the Olympics on TV, I would imagine myself sprinting down the homestretch and winning a gold medal like Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter. At the time, I couldn't relate to well-known distance runners such as Shalane Flanagan or Deena Kastor, because they looked nothing like me!

Representation matters, especially for young athletes.

Eventually, after college, I realized that I was better suited for distance running. Still, I believe it took me forever to figure out because there weren’t any iconic African-American long-distance runners at the time for me to look up to. Even to this day, there are a lot of athletes who come into a sport but don’t see people who look like them. I want to change that for the rising generation of athletes.

I believe that sports can be a powerful tool for promoting social change.

Although I have a small platform, I hope that by showing up on the starting line as myself, I can help to create a larger, more comfortable space for Black girls to explore the benefits of distance running at an earlier age.

Left: Ari Hendrix-Roach racing the marathon at the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials. Right: Portrait of Ari in her Oiselle uniform

I want to show every Black woman that we can do anything we put our minds to. And we can do things that maybe we thought we once couldn’t!

When I first started running I never thought I would be where I am today, but over the years I’ve put in a lot of hard work, I’ve failed at times and succeeded at others. But I’ve never given up. I think the biggest thing I have learned is that you have to have self-belief and root for yourself too. I don’t do well with self-confidence and I think that is a key thing you have to have.

I hope for future generations of athletes I can be someone they can look at and see themselves and know that they can do it too. When I first started running I didn’t see a lot of women that looked like me running the marathon, and I think that more and more African-American women are running the marathon and being represented. “The List” is a great example of this and being on that is so important to me so I hope they can see that and see themselves, and know that they can do it too!

We hope you’ll join us to support Madie, Kendra, Brenna, Carmen, and Ari, as they train, compete, and race. They perform not just for themselves, but for the next generation of Black women. At Oiselle, we are committed to fostering diversity and representation in the running community: we’re honored to work with determined women challenging institutionalized norms.

Organizations like the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC) are doing crucial work within the outdoor industry to expand access to sports, educate industry leaders, and design a future committed to racial justice. Through greater financial support, resource access, mentorship, amplified storytelling, and greater representation, we as an industry can empower more Black American women to feel welcomed and celebrated in distance running.

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