Runners in Berlin #berlinblackish2017
By Mwabi Kaira

It was winter 2012 and I had my fuzzy slippers on, sipping on a cup of tea with my feet up flipping through my copy of Essence magazine when I read something about Black women runners. I took a mental note and thought one day I’ll run something and went about my day. At the top of the year I met Shonda, my college friend for lunch, and she brought along another friend. Turns out, that friend belonged to the same organization I was reading about; Black Girls Run! I told her I was interested and in March I laced up my tennis shoes and went to my first Black Girls Run! I couldn’t run to the mailbox at the time, but something inside told me I could do this and I listened.

Continue

I was a good runner all the way up until fifth grade when puberty hit, yes I was an early bloomer. I noticed the audience of boys started getting larger at the finish line and that was the end of that for this shy girl. My first run with BGR in 2013 was a struggle...It was 3 miles and I think I only got through a mile and a half because I didn’t get the directions right and instead of getting lost I decided to just go back to my car. And I didn’t run the whole distance. I pushed myself to run a block then walk until I caught my breath before running again. The following week, I went back and was encouraged by the women of BGR to just do my best. I made it past the point I stopped the week prior, so I felt pretty good. I kept going back week-after-week and the consistency paid off; my breathing got controlled as I ran, I found my cadence and eventually I could run the entire 3 miles without stopping. The weekly BGR meet-ups became so much more than about running but about sisterhood and encouragement. Their mantra is “no woman left behind” and these ladies will wait for you no matter what your speed is. The faster ladies will finish the route and actually come back and run beside you till you finish and all the women are waiting with high fives and cheers of good job. These ladies taught me what running shoes to buy, what kind of compression pants and sports bra to get, and had running tips. I ran my first 5K that May and my first 10K that October. I couldn’t believe that I was a runner! No one was more surprised than me when I signed up for my first half marathon and ran it in March 2014.

Mwabi Kaira

The running joke has always been that African-Americans don’t run unless they’re being chased. Running was just not something we did for pleasure. Case in point, in 2011 only 1.6 percent of runners in the United States identified as African-American. But that’s changing.

Ashley Hicks-Rocha and Toni Carey founded Black Girls RUN! in 2009. The movement really took off in 2011 when a group of black women met to run the Publix Half Marathon. BGR offers weekly runs all over the country. Black Men Run followed suit in 2013. All these groups were created with our health in mind; our numbers for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have always been alarming. Running on a regular basis and controlling what we eat changes these numbers drastically.

Michelle Richardson was almost 300 pounds when she decided to take control of her health and weight. She changed what she ate and started exercising, first taking walks and moving up to jumping rope. As she dropped weight she added running. It was not easy but she kept at it and refused to quit. Michelle says, “I use to be that overweight girl wishing that I could do it. I remember struggling through my first 5K and now here I am with over 120 pounds lost naturally and I have run over 11 half marathons and 1 full marathon. I am so proud of myself and know if I can do it with discipline anyone can.”

Michelle Richardson
Another movement was born in 2016 when Heather King decided to ask other African-Americans to run the Georgia Publix Marathon with her. This is not a popular marathon because it is considered one of the toughest courses. It was the actual course used for the 1996 Olympics. I had several half marathons under my belt and signed up along with 500 others from all over the United States and 3 countries. We trained and made history on March 19, 2017 as Team Take down Publix. We now travel together to run in Berlin, Jamaica, Paris, Miami and wherever there is a race. We encourage each other on the course and party afterwards. We have our elite runners who make record time and break records and we have runners like me who are not fast but cross the finish line in our own time. Even Kevin Hart caught the bug and ran the New York City Marathon on November 5th.

Today, the number of African-American runners has jumped to over 8% and will continue to rise. If you are interested in joining the movement, look up Black Girls RUN! and Black Men Run and meet them for a run. I’m warning you, it might become a habit that will take you to places you never imagined. If you have the desire, we will get you across the finish line.

Are you a runner or have you considered it?

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her at http://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

Runners in Berlin #berlinblackish2017
By Mwabi Kaira

It was winter 2012 and I had my fuzzy slippers on, sipping on a cup of tea with my feet up flipping through my copy of Essence magazine when I read something about Black women runners. I took a mental note and thought one day I’ll run something and went about my day. At the top of the year I met Shonda, my college friend for lunch, and she brought along another friend. Turns out, that friend belonged to the same organization I was reading about; Black Girls Run! I told her I was interested and in March I laced up my tennis shoes and went to my first Black Girls Run! I couldn’t run to the mailbox at the time, but something inside told me I could do this and I listened.

Continue

I was a good runner all the way up until fifth grade when puberty hit, yes I was an early bloomer. I noticed the audience of boys started getting larger at the finish line and that was the end of that for this shy girl. My first run with BGR in 2013 was a struggle...It was 3 miles and I think I only got through a mile and a half because I didn’t get the directions right and instead of getting lost I decided to just go back to my car. And I didn’t run the whole distance. I pushed myself to run a block then walk until I caught my breath before running again. The following week, I went back and was encouraged by the women of BGR to just do my best. I made it past the point I stopped the week prior, so I felt pretty good. I kept going back week-after-week and the consistency paid off; my breathing got controlled as I ran, I found my cadence and eventually I could run the entire 3 miles without stopping. The weekly BGR meet-ups became so much more than about running but about sisterhood and encouragement. Their mantra is “no woman left behind” and these ladies will wait for you no matter what your speed is. The faster ladies will finish the route and actually come back and run beside you till you finish and all the women are waiting with high fives and cheers of good job. These ladies taught me what running shoes to buy, what kind of compression pants and sports bra to get, and had running tips. I ran my first 5K that May and my first 10K that October. I couldn’t believe that I was a runner! No one was more surprised than me when I signed up for my first half marathon and ran it in March 2014.

Mwabi Kaira

The running joke has always been that African-Americans don’t run unless they’re being chased. Running was just not something we did for pleasure. Case in point, in 2011 only 1.6 percent of runners in the United States identified as African-American. But that’s changing.

Ashley Hicks-Rocha and Toni Carey founded Black Girls RUN! in 2009. The movement really took off in 2011 when a group of black women met to run the Publix Half Marathon. BGR offers weekly runs all over the country. Black Men Run followed suit in 2013. All these groups were created with our health in mind; our numbers for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have always been alarming. Running on a regular basis and controlling what we eat changes these numbers drastically.

Michelle Richardson was almost 300 pounds when she decided to take control of her health and weight. She changed what she ate and started exercising, first taking walks and moving up to jumping rope. As she dropped weight she added running. It was not easy but she kept at it and refused to quit. Michelle says, “I use to be that overweight girl wishing that I could do it. I remember struggling through my first 5K and now here I am with over 120 pounds lost naturally and I have run over 11 half marathons and 1 full marathon. I am so proud of myself and know if I can do it with discipline anyone can.”

Michelle Richardson
Another movement was born in 2016 when Heather King decided to ask other African-Americans to run the Georgia Publix Marathon with her. This is not a popular marathon because it is considered one of the toughest courses. It was the actual course used for the 1996 Olympics. I had several half marathons under my belt and signed up along with 500 others from all over the United States and 3 countries. We trained and made history on March 19, 2017 as Team Take down Publix. We now travel together to run in Berlin, Jamaica, Paris, Miami and wherever there is a race. We encourage each other on the course and party afterwards. We have our elite runners who make record time and break records and we have runners like me who are not fast but cross the finish line in our own time. Even Kevin Hart caught the bug and ran the New York City Marathon on November 5th.

Today, the number of African-American runners has jumped to over 8% and will continue to rise. If you are interested in joining the movement, look up Black Girls RUN! and Black Men Run and meet them for a run. I’m warning you, it might become a habit that will take you to places you never imagined. If you have the desire, we will get you across the finish line.

Are you a runner or have you considered it?

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her at http://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/
Michelle Obama
By Mwabi Kaira

Michelle Obama was recently interviewed by poet Elizabeth Alexander at the first annual Obama Foundation Summit.  What she said about parenting is not a new sentiment.  Michelle said, "It's like the problem in the world today is we love our boys, and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men and I think we pay for that a little bit and that's a 'we' thing because we raise them.  It's powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean?" she asked. "You know, does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so they feel a little entitled and a little, you know, a little self-righteous sometimes? But, that’s kind of on us too as women and mothers, you know, as we nurture men and push girls to be perfect."

Here's why Michelle's words gave me pause.

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She doesn’t have sons.

Yes, I realize this was a general statement but had she related it back to growing up with a brother and the apparent different treatment they received with being nurtured versus being pushed to be perfect, pause would not have been necessary. Actress Gabourey Sidibe took to Instagram with Michelle’s clip and captioned it, “I love her so much. I say this all the time! Even my brother will tell you that we basically lived in completely different households, even though we were under the same roof.  Can we start raising these boys to be strong black women cuz I’m very tired.”

Gabourey Sidibe's instagram
Maybe I’m overly sensitive when anyone speaks about the shortcomings of boys because I am a mother of two teenage sons who has gone out of her way to raise my boys and not just love them.  Add raising them in this climate where we have seen Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Mike Brown be killed just because they are boys who happen to be black, and this mothering black sons thing takes on a whole different turn.  I know nothing about raising daughters and would never speak on it.  I have lived long enough to know that being vocal about a subject is completely different from actually living it.

Michelle Obama said what I have heard since I was a young girl.  Because I heard and saw it, I made a conscious decision to work extremely hard to raise my sons to become strong, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, feminist men.  I have taught my sons accountability since they were toddlers and I challenge them on not only being responsible for the parts they play in situations but to own them as well.  I encourage them to treat everyone the same from the janitor to the CEO. I have taught them to show respect to everyone and to handle adversity with grace.  I have taught them that rejection is redirection to better things and to not take it so hard.  My sons are not perfect and I wish they were better cleaners when it comes to their rooms but overall they are on the right path and I am proud of them.  I am trying my best to love and raise them and I know I’m not the only mother of sons who feels this way.

Should a mom without sons speak on how they're being raised?
Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/
Actress Reagan Preston-Gomez and her mom Cheryl Gomez 

By Mwabi Kaira
Listening to Queen Sugar actress Reagan Preston-Gomez’s podcast Reaganomics last week, featuring her mother Cheryl Gomez, I could not believe that her sexual harassment story that happened back in 1982 sounded exactly like the many sexual harassment accounts by women today.  Thirty five years have gone by, and here we are still experiencing the abuse of power by men who believe that taking advantage of women sexually is part of their job description and women should simply accept it as the way it is.

Reagan Preston-Gomez is host of the podcast Reaganomics

Reagan Preston-Gomez's mother Cheryl applied to the Detroit Metropolitan Police Academy in 1974 and got accepted in 1977. Although the course was both physically and mentally draining, Cheryl loved it and graduated twelfth in her class of 120 students. However, not everyone was excited about female police officers and a white male police officer greeted the new female officers with “Go back where you came from” to which Cheryl responded with “We’re here to stay.”

Trouble really began after Cheryl got married to then medical student Bennett Preston. The shift was immediate; officers suggested that she did not need to work since she was married to a doctor and was taking up a position that belonged to a man. She fended off racial slurs, verbal abuse, and even death threats by people she considered to be her colleagues. When she brought her concerns to her commanding officer he not only dismissed them but expressed a sexual interest in her. This commanding officer, a black man, was being groomed by the Mayor to be the next Chief of Police!

On the podcast Cheryl describes being invited to play racquetball with the department by the commanding officer. When she got there, she was surprised to find that she was the only one there. She immediately felt uncomfortable, considering his previous advances, but she stayed to play a game of racquetball so she wouldn’t be penalized for not participating. After the game, she tried to leave and he blocked the door and again made more sexual advances that she refused. Because of her refusal, the commanding officer told Cheryl that “since he couldn’t eff her he would eff her one way or another.”

Reagan with her parents 

Cheryl finally decided to fight back when her health became affected from not only the sexual harassment from the commanding officer but also from being verbally harassed and bullied by the entire Detroit police department after being directed to do so by the commanding officer. No one would help her inside or outside work (including her husband’s affluent family) because she was going up against the machine. As a result, her marriage began to suffer, and her husband and family kept telling her to quit. Cheryl, on the other hand, had worked so hard to become a police officer that there was no way she was going to walk away from it without a fight.

Cheryl had a historic win in 1987, when Mack Douglas, the commanding officer was found guilty and received a civil conviction. Unfortunately, this did not stop him from continuing to be the Detroit Police commander. Cheryl went on to found the Association for the Sexually Harassed (ASH) and authored a book, When No Means No. And although Cheryl won her case, much damage was done during that time: her marriage fell apart, she became depressed, tried to take her life and became an alcoholic.

However, her strength was evident on the podcast. It was beautiful to hear a mother and daughter discuss something so devastating yet important in this way. Cheryl is now a recovering alcoholic. Reagan alluded to possibly making her mother’s story into a movie or documentary.

Because of charges being brought against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, and most recently director Brett Ratner, sexual harassment is a subject being discussed again. Women are coming forward with their stories using the #MeToo hashtag. Instead of judging these women, let’s embrace our sister-friends and educate our sons on not taking advantage of women in any capacity.

Have you ever been the victim of sexual harassment at work? #metoo

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

By Mwabi Kaira

A week before Thanksgiving in 2014, we celebrated my brother and sister’s joint birthdays with a party. Somewhere between the dancing, the drinks and cutting the cake, my big sister casually mentioned that she hadn’t been feeling well and google had told her that she probably had colon cancer.  I rolled my eyes and thought she was being dramatic.  Everybody knows that Doctors despise google and the self-diagnosis it brings.  I told her to make the appointment to ease her fears and I would accompany her.  At 41 it was an uphill battle to get a colonoscopy scheduled because she was young and female.  Routine screenings are not recommended for adults under 50 and colon cancer has been more common in males historically.  A month later, I was in the waiting room scrolling my timelines when the doctor came out to inform me of the cancer he had found in my sister’s colon and the surgery he had to perform right away.  She had Stage 3 colon cancer.


After the surgery we got a crash course in all things cancer; what it was, how it was caused, and what we should expect. The questions were endless. Doctors were baffled that we did not have a family history of any cancer at all and that my sister was African-American and female. These were all things they had not seen at their practice.

As I drove her home from the hospital days after her surgery that December, she asked me to stop at her nail salon for a manicure and pedicure. I obliged and recognized her fight; she refused to go home and get under the covers and let this cancer diagnosis take over her life. My sister begun her 12 rounds of chemotherapy and ended her treatment with radiation. We rang the bell to celebrate her last chemo in July 2015. She was in remission in September and the family along with her three kids rejoiced. However, she started feeling not so well again in December and ended up in the ER New Year’s Eve. The cancer was back and this time it was stage 4 rectal cancer.

My sister did not look sickly and kept her lashes, brows and face beat at all times. She was self-employed and continued to work. You could not tell she had stage 4 cancer. I didn't get worried until December 2016 when she started slowing down, and could barely eat two bites before feeling full. She was exhausted all the time and it was the beginning of her deterioration. Months of being in and out of the hospital followed.

I was getting an oil change the morning of August 9 and planned on going to the hospital that evening after work when 'Good Morning America' was on in the waiting room of the car dealership. I stopped flipping through the magazine in my hands when I heard them say colon and rectal cancer were on the rise in young women. Not even 3 years prior my sister was a rarity with her diagnosis and now it was so prevalent in young women that a story was being done on it. I made a mental note to look it up later and went to work. I was at work for barely an hour and felt a tugging to leave and be by my sister’s side in the hospital. What greeted me was a scene I will never forget and can still replay. My sister, Donna, took her last breath during the morning hours of August 10, 2017 with her family by side. She had just turned 44.

Colorectal cancer is still low in people under 55 but a study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that cancer is increasing among millennials and those born circa 1990 have nearly double the risk for colon cancer and quadruple the risk for rectal cancer compared to those born circa 1950. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your doctor and ask for a colonoscopy:

Dark Blood in Your Stool

Don’t be alarmed from bright red blood as you wipe because that could be from straining or a small hemorrhoid but large maroon or black-tinged blood are cause for concern because they would indicate bleeding further up the colon.

A Change in Your Bowel Habits
My sister noticed that she was going more frequently and that alerted her to pay attention. For some this could be noticing more diarrhea or constipation. If you have done nothing different to your diet and suddenly see changes, pay attention.

Persistent Abdominal Discomfort

If you notice more frequent cramps, gas or pain in your stomach that lasts for days and over the counter medicine doesn’t cure, pay attention.

Using the Bathroom but Still Feeling Full
If you go to the bathroom and still feel like you need to go then this is a sign that something is not right.

Weakness and Fatigue
We all feel lethargic some days but if you’re feeling weak and exhausted and have some of the symptoms above, there could be a problem.

Unintended Weight Loss
We all want our clothes to fit a little looser but if you have very loose clothes in a short period by unintended weight loss paired with some symptoms above, there could be a problem.

How often do you listen to your body?

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/