Sports Backers Blog

Kids Run RVA: Creating Change for RVA Youth Through Active Living Equity

By: Chaz Coleman, Kids Run RVA Program Manager

The fight for equity in America for Black people and people of color is an ongoing battle. Here in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, there are daily reminders about the struggle for equal rights, with references to the Confederate legacy found in monuments, school names, and mascots, to name a few. Activists and protesters have also marched to demand accountability for law enforcement agencies and an end to police violence like that seen in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. And though local elected officials have pledged to re-imagine policing and public safety, the monuments have started to come down, and there is ongoing debate and discussion about changing school names around the region, there is still work for us all to do to achieve equity in all aspects of society.

Kids Run RVA is dedicated to achieving equity in active living for youth throughout the Richmond region, especially in marginalized and underserved communities. As we have seen around the country and here in Richmond, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been a driving force behind many of the protests locally and nationwide, and Kids Run RVA stands with that movement to create positive change.

Kids Run RVA is a program of Sports Backers, and we’ve recently supported the efforts behind nationwide runs for Ahmaud Arbery and made a statement in support of BLM movement. During the 2019-20 school year, Kids Run RVA supported over 80 school and community run clubs, with more than 2,000 kids participating in our programming. Over half of the run clubs that we support are Title I schools, where a high percentage of students receive free or reduced meals. The families from these communities are often low income and, by working with those families as well as school leaders, teachers, and volunteer coaches, we are removing the economic and social barriers to active living opportunities that exist for individuals and communities. We try to do our part to at least provide the fitness aspect to kids’ lives in these communities, particularly ones where schools lack the resources to offer a traditional track and field or cross-country program, or other structured activity programs.

Kids Run RVA works to provide the kids in underserved communities an opportunity to be active. To support these communities, we provide kids with complimentary entries to our fall and spring races, help provide transportation to the events, provide running shoes if needed, and provide team t-shirts. Along with these items, we also provide mini grants for additional financial support to the clubs. It is essential that kids start exercising at an early age to help develop a healthy lifestyle. Not only will exercising help them avoid future health issues that are more prevalent in people of color, but exercising also builds confidence and self-esteem. Kids get to experience crossing the finish line for a race they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to take part in. We strive to provide more opportunities for kids of color, so they can fully enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of an active lifestyle.

Helping us with our mission is an army of Kids Run RVA volunteer coaches. Without their passion and dedication, our program could not exist. We have over 200 volunteer coaches within our network. Our coaches come from all walks of life – some are teachers while others are stay-at-home parents or retirees who enjoy giving back to their community through their time, energy, and skills. Our coaches are community role models and some have even stepped in to address the current issues that we are facing as a nation.

Coaches Damon Manning (Head Coach at Lucile Brown Middle) and Kirk Chalmers, Jr., (Head Coach at Boushall and Elkhardt-Thompson Middle Schools) have been using running to create change. They both ran for the Just-Us Runners team in the Great American 5000 virtual race across America. Their team was made up of several Sports Backers staff members along with long-time Kids Run RVA supporters Alan Delbridge, Emily Dansbach, Regina George, and Eric Elliott. During the event, the team raised money for New Virginia Majority, which is a nonprofit social welfare organization that builds the power of marginalized communities through mobilizing to end mass incarceration, expand voting rights, build just economic policies, protect immigrants, and preserve the environment. Chalmers also went to a protest march on Monument Avenue in support of the BLM Movement, and thought about the kids he teaches and coaches while he was protesting. “As an adult, we are the shield for the next generation,” Chalmers said. “I want to make sure they are well prepared for occupations such as being a lawyer or teacher.”

Another Kids Run RVA coach is taking a different path to engage her school community to create positive change. Laura Johnson was in her first year coaching the run club at Ridge Elementary School in Henrico County before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the spring season short. She also serves as the Ridge PTA President, and in this role she works with students and families to encourage everyone to stay informed of current issues impacting the school community, especially those that relate to equity and social justice, to make sure their voices are  heard, and to make a positive impact on all students. Ridge feeds into Douglas Freeman High School, which is located nearby on Three Chopt Road. Laura has signed a petition in favor of having the Freeman Rebels mascot name changed and responded to the school’s call for comment.  “Personally, I don’t think ‘Rebel’ expresses the values we want to revere and embody, and I think it needs to be changed,” Laura said. “Changing the nickname would be a hopeful step in the direction of equality and inclusion, values we want our children to aspire to and be proud to represent.” She is encouraging the community to express their opinions, regardless of if they are in favor of changing the name.

Each of us has the power to create change to make our region and this nation a better place for ALL. Providing an impactful running program for youth in Richmond, especially those less fortunate, is a small part of the change but it is not enough. Bringing an end to systemic and structural racism won’t be a quick fix, and Kids Run RVA continues to work to make positive changes through active living equity. It is great to see the kids from underserved communities in Richmond taking part in our active living programs and participating in our races. It is a long journey but we are all working together to get to the finish line of equality.

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