Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
Most runners know that a marathon is 26.2 miles and a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. Birmingham-based health educator and veteran runner Jerri Haslem wants to add a new distance to the world of running – 8.46 miles.
On October 25, participants throughout Birmingham and beyond will embark on 8.46 miles or 8 minutes and 46 seconds of movement as part of the 8.46 Breathe Race Series.
Haslem created the 8.46 Breathe Race Series to honor George Floyd and to raise awareness about racial inequality and injustice. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “It’s not about speed, it’s about the cause,” Haslem said.
Eight minutes 46 seconds has become a symbol of police brutality associated with the killing of George Floyd. He died in police custody after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
“When we are dead and gone, history will tell the story of why,” said Haslem, creator of the new race series. “The world witnessed a man lose his life in eight minutes and forty-six seconds.”
And the event is not just for runners. Those who register pledge to engage in some type of physical activity for 8.46 miles or 8 minutes and 46 seconds wherever they choose. Participants could walk or run for 8.46 miles or take a walk around their block for 8 minutes and 46 seconds or bike or swim or even meditate.
“The 846 Breathe Race Series is not about every step you make,” Haslem said. “It’s about every breath you take.”
Haslem is co-founder of Black People Run Bike Swim, a local organization created to promote physical activity in African American communities and founder of the Junction 5K, which is held every year in Ensley and is the only USA Track and Field-sanctioned 5K through a predominantly African American community.
Haslem hopes the 8.46 Breathe Race Series will encourage people to get active not just for their physical health but for mental health, too, as she recognizes the emotional toll of systemic racism. Most of all, she hopes the event will spark much-needed conversations.
“There are people in the running community who need to take the blinders off,” Haslem said. “A lot of people may not want to talk about [racial injustice] but it’s not going to go away and the only way that you can bring awareness and bring hope is to start having these conversations.”
When Lauren Floyd of Homewood learned about the race from Haslem she immediately wanted to participate.
Floyd believes the killing of George Floyd was a wake-up call for many non-Black people who had been in denial about the racial injustice that African Americans face.
“Once they began listening to what the Black community had been telling them, a lot of people weren’t sure what to do with what they were learning or with their feelings of outrage,” Floyd said. “This race could be a first small step toward being an advocate and being an ally.”
She hopes the 8.46 Breathe Race Series will not only raise awareness but also spark action.
“It’s not enough to just ‘have black friends,’” Floyd said. “You must ask yourself ‘Have I been listening? Do I believe them when they say these things are happening?’ And if you value them as friends and neighbors, you should want to take action.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 8.46 Breathe Race will be a virtual event, but this means people beyond Birmingham can participate. The race’s registration list boasts participants from 19 states and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Darrel Moore of Birmingham, who’s been a runner for six years and has also registered for the race, believes that running can be a good way to bring together people of different backgrounds. So, to use a race to raise awareness about a social justice issue makes sense.
“It’s for something bigger than just to be out running,” Moore said. “For me, it’s about unity.”
Haslem sees the 8.46 Breathe Race Series as her way to speak out and a way for participants to do the same.
“We must stand up and make a difference,” she said. “We have a voice and we must use it to say no” to racial injustice and inequality.
The 8.46 Breathe Race Series is set for Sunday, October 25. Learn more and register at 846breathe.com.