George Morse woke up on a brisk, sunny Saturday morning to meet his friends and fellow runners at the intersection of 33rd and Diamond Street for a 5 mile distance run. Morse has been an avid runner since his younger days at John Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia, but this morning’s run was special.
He was about to turn 37 years old.
“This is my birthday celebration,” he said. “When I get to any of my birthdays, I may get up that morning and do something like a light jog, but I’m glad I got to celebrate it this weekend with my brothers.”
Morse is a member of Black Men Run Philly, a national coalition of Black and brown men dedicated to promoting running as a way to improve health and fitness in the BIPOC community. He’s been involved with Black Men Run for eight years, and feels a renewed sense of pride when the group gets together.
Black Men Run has more than 50 national chapters from Philadelphia to Seattle. The group was created to address ongoing historical health risks that persist throughout the Black community, such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. The CDC cites that heart disease and stroke are amongst the leading causes of death in non-Hispanic Black males.
The team captain of Black Men Run Philly, Lawerence Harrington, says that running with his group gives him a sense of purpose. He sees every run meet-up as an opportunity for a different person to take the lead.
“We have different members who are certified trainers who are really just good at fitness,” he said. “We tend to let them warm up with something like jumping jacks, just to get our heart rates up.It is healthy, it’s therapeutic. It allows us to express what’s going on in our lives and it’s just our safe space.”
Black Men Run draws Black and Brown individuals from all backgrounds, including men that are businessmen, fathers and community activists. Harrington says that while the name of the group is Black Men Run, he encourages runners who might casually be passing by to join.
“We’re inclusive to everybody,” he said. “Anybody from any race, ethnicity. Just because the name says Black Man Run, it’s not only for Black or Brown men.”
But Black Men Run is not just about improving physical well-being. Morse said it helps men of color feel included in the sport overall.
“We needed to be represented in this sport and in this space,” he said. “When you go out to the major marathons and things like that, if it wasn’t for groups like us, we probably wouldn’t have the representation that we have now.”
Morse also said that this sense of belonging improves his mental health, just as much as his physical.
“You’ve got brothers from a diverse background. Brothers who do are a different kind of professional work and things like that. But you also have a safe space where you can come talk to them about whatever you may be dealing with in life and get some type of direction,” he said.
Morse said that one of his favorite aspects about running in the community is hearing words of affirmation from people in the neighborhoods they run through.
“You hear them honking their horns on route,” he said. They’ll tell us, ‘Keep up the good work, guys. Y’all look good. I need to come run with you.’ And that’s what we want to hear. We want to invite people out to come join us and come around.”
Ultimately, Morse says that their group could hopefully encourage the next generation of runners.
“I hope we’re inspiring the youth and people that don’t run to see that this is a recreational activity that you can get involved with that can benefit you mentally and physically,” he said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misspelled George Morse’s last name, and incorrectly listed another high school from the one that Morse attended.