When Yulonda Burris’ friend asked if she would join her in training for a triathlon last summer, Burris raised her eyebrows so high her forehead wrinkled, then enlightened her friend on what she thought everyone knew.
“Black girls don’t run.”
According to a survey conducted by Running USA, a nationwide organization that promotes the sport, Burris close to the truth. Last year’s National Runner Survey reported that 90 percent of competitive runners were white, 5 percent were Hispanic, 3 percent were Asian and less than 2 percent were African American.
But the conversation ignited something in Burris, and she’s doing something to change those statistics. Last August, she launched the Charlotte chapter of Black Girls Run.
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The group plans several runs throughout Charlotte each week, and those scheduled in University City bring the highest number of members.
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, at least 40 women can be seen in stretching outside the University City YMCA and the greenways that thread through the area.
Concerned with the rising obesity issue plaguing African American women, Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks started the first chapter of Black Girls Run in New York City in 2009.
“Four out of five African American women are overweight or obese,” the Black Girls Run website says. “We can change that.”
Today, chapters of the women’s group – which accepts all races – exist in most states in the country.
“The good thing about Black Girls Run is it caters to the new runner,” said Burris. “They care about the experienced runner, they value all runners, but the goal is to eradicate obesity in the African American community, especially for the women.”
Chilitia McCoy, 34, who lives off Prosperity Church Road, joined the group in September after seeing scores of women running during her commute to work at Wells Fargo on W.T. Harris Boulevard.
“I would say to my friends, ‘I wish I could do that without passing out,’ ” she said.
A few weeks ago, McCoy completed her first 5K race.
“It’s the encouragement and support,” she said of her running success. “I could never do that before.”
The group has turned many non-runners into runners who now crave the pavement.
“I hated it before. I’m not going to lie. Because nobody prepared me how to run,” Burris said. “If you go out there on your own, and you’re not a natural runner, you’re probably doing everything wrong.”
Black Girls Run, she said, creates a network of sisters who encourage each other while pushing at the same time. It doesn’t take long for many to change their opinions of running.
“It gets to the point where you’re excited to go every week, and you’re looking for a run,” said Burris. “After a while, it doesn’t hurt. After a while, it’s enjoyable. After a while, it becomes something that you really want to do, or have to do. It’s addictive.”