From art to academics, business to backpacking, Black people have dealt with the frustration and isolation of underrepresentation. And the endurance running space is no different.

Jay Ell Alexander, owner and CEO of Black Girls Run, recognized this discrepancy and wanted to do something about it. 

In 2009, BGR was created in an effort to tackle the obesity epidemic in the African-American community. Black Girls Run encourages and motivates black women to practice and maintain a healthy lifestyle. BGR is also a fitness resource for new or veteran runners, athletes, and gym rats alike. 

Through events, programming, and community partnerships, Jay Ell and BGR continue their work to inspire all women to be active.

Don Reichelt of BOCO recently sat down to chat with Jay Ell about her commitment to giving to her community and how that comes alive through her passion for health and fitness. Check out the video and find out how you can support Black Girls Run’s mission.

READ THE FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION BELOW

Don Reichelt:

Hey, this is Don with BOCO Gear, and I am talking with Jay Ell. Super excited to have you here Jay Ell. How are you today?

Jay Ell:

Doing great Don. Great to see you as well.

Don Reichelt:

Amazing. Well, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jay Ell:

Yeah. So, I am a mom, a wife, a runner, but professionally I’m known as the owner and CEO of Black Girls Run as well as the executive director of our foundation. And so, I lead a dynamic running group across the country. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.

Don Reichelt:

That’s amazing. You keep yourself busy, clearly. Well, talk to me a little bit about Black Girls Run. I think a lot of people in the industry have seen that name pop up in various areas and in runs in groups. But tell us about it. Tell us the purpose and the community and things like that.

Jay Ell:

Yeah, absolutely. So, Black Girls Run — as I alluded to — I like to call us the dopest running crew on the pavement. And really that’s what we are at the essence. We have built a community over the last almost 12 years with about 75 groups across the country, 250,000 members, and growing. 

We provide a safe space for women to come together to kind of celebrate each other’s achievements through running and health and fitness — also have that sisterhood, accountability, and community. But we really bring awareness to the disparities that impact the black community.

Not many people realize that black women are at the top of the charts for heart disease and so many of the other chronic diseases. So, our purpose is really two-fold. We want to provide that sisterhood and community, but we also want to bring awareness and really change the story, the storyline of what it looks like for health and fitness in the black community.

Don Reichelt:

I love it. That’s amazing. Congrats to you on building that community. You’ve obviously played a big part. So what brought you to this calling and how did you get to where you are at today?

Jay Ell:

Yeah, so I started with BGR a little over a decade ago. I was fresh out of grad school looking for some hands-on work and that’s when the organization had started taking off. 

We actually started off as a blog in 2009, and blogging was a lot different in 2009 versus what it is now. Twitter had just hit the scene. Facebook was still kind of new. Social media wasn’t what it is now. And so, I came on board and assisted them — my background is in marketing and PR — I assisted them with a lot of brand management.

Over the last decade, I’ve just been in the space to help create the brand and create the movement. About four years ago, our co-founder stepped away from the organization and I had the opportunity to buy the company. 

With me coming on board as owner, I also created the foundation — our 501(c)(3) —  in 2018 as well. So, I have come full circle. 

But, running in high school and college — running was seen as a kind of punishment. I’m sure for my track folks and my basketball people it was always like, “Hit the baseline.” Run those sprints, run those suicides — running was definitely a punishment. But now, when I’m kind of too old to be participating in team sports, I went back to running. 

I had hit a heavy weight about a decade ago, met my now-husband, and started experiencing headaches at a very young age. I was in my early 20s just trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult. And so, went to the doctor and I had a great doctor who was very proactive in terms of giving the opportunity to change your lifestyle versus automatically just kind of writing a script.

I just signed up for a 10K Training team here in Richmond and just fell in love with the pavement, literally. And was able to kind of marry my personal passions and my professional passions in terms of marketing PR and running to really create the career that I have now. So it’s kind of come full circle.

Don Reichelt:

That’s wonderful. So, thinking about BOCO Gear and other brands that are operating in the running and endurance space, what are your thoughts as to how we can help the diversity and inclusion in this space become not so lopsided as it is today?

Jay Ell:

I don’t think it needs to be overthought as much as we think it needs to be. It could really be in terms of representation — who are modeling the clothes? And who do we have on the website? Make sure that we not only just showcase different races, but we’re showcasing different sizes. 

Not everyone fits a typical petite size in terms of running or making sure that we’re showing just different walks of life. And I think that representation alone goes a long way.

But then also just making a commitment in terms of a verbal commitment, in terms of putting out reports or updates on the website. What are we actively doing within our organization to make sure that we are owning this space of diversity and really changing the culture?

It’s one thing, when you are within a retail space obviously dollars mean something, but your people are who drive your dollars. And so, we need to make sure that we’re investing in the people and that we’re not just saying, “Oh, we’re servicing more of this diverse client, or we have these people on our website.”

But we’ve actually made a commitment within our work culture to maybe hire more X, Y, Z, or whatever that may look like. So I think it’s very small, basic baby steps that can really make a big voice.

Don Reichelt:

That’s wonderful. Yeah, thank you for that. That’s definitely the walking around trade shows and things like that. You can tell that the baby steps have started, but there’s a lot of work that is still left to be done throughout the industry.

Jay Ell:

Yeah.

Don Reichelt:

Turning this to you a little bit, Black History Month. It’s an important month for many reasons. I’d like to find out who in your life has inspired you and helped motivate you to where you are today?

Jay Ell:

Wow, I don’t know if I have any big wigs. I always, one of our partners asked me probably a couple of years ago, “If I had to put a dream team together, who would it be?” 

I was like, “I want Kobe Bryant, I want Serena Williams.” And like I put all these and like put all these big wigs together. And I was like, “Well, what’re some folks that are actually reachable within my network?”

Don Reichelt:

There you go.

Jay Ell:

But really I mean, folks that motivate me and keep me accountable, it really is my inner circle. Between my mom, my two-year-old son, my husband. They all keep me very humble. 

They know who I am before I do. And so, that’s kind of the essence of my circle in terms of they are my biggest critics, but biggest cheerleaders as well. And my mom is a sassy senior as she says. She ran her first half marathon when she turned 70, and she still plays pickleball, bowling, and tennis.

And so, that’s something that I aspire to in terms of making sure that I’m living a healthy and active lifestyle. And even in post-retirement, I can still be active and healthy as well. So, those are kind of some folks that like I said, hold me accountable but also folks that inspire me as well.


Don Reichelt:

That’s amazing. Well, I’m inspired by your mom as well and I’ve never met her, that’s incredible. All right, so to wrap this up, if somebody wants to get involved with Black Girls Run, how would they find you? What does that process us look like wherever they live?

Jay Ell:

Yeah, the best way is the old-school route of going to blackgirlsrun.com. Obviously, we’re on all social media channels, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, so you can find us there. 

Our website is the best first step. We have all of our groups listed there. We have links to the groups in terms of how you can join a local group wherever you are. I can guarantee 99% of the time, we have a group in every major city that you may live in and just get connected from there. All of our groups have run schedules. 

Obviously, in the times that we live in right now, everything looks a little bit different in terms of how we gather and get together.

Jay Ell:

But we do have groups that are still actively running. We have events that are happening, and even if you don’t want to get in person, you can still join us with virtual challenges. 

The goal is just to keep people moving and keep them as active and healthy as possible. So, we have a way that you can join us on every level. But yeah, just head to our website blackgirlsrun.com and that will get the ball rolling.

Don Reichelt:

That’s amazing. Well, thank you so much for taking the time Jay Ell. I really appreciate it.

Jay Ell:

No problem.

Don Reichelt:

And keep doing the amazing work you’re doing.

Jay Ell:

Thank you, Don.

Stay Warm on Your Winter Runs

Feeling inspired by Jay Ell to get outside and get your miles in? 

If you prefer to run with groups, be sure to check out how you can get involved with Black Girls Run or check out other running groups in your area. Otherwise, take it a step at a time getting your endurance up and the miles behind you. No matter your level of running experience, you can get up and get active just like Jay Ell does with Black Girls Run.

And here in Colorado, you’ve got to prepare for the elements before stepping outside. As the snow season is just getting started, make sure you’re warm and prepared for anything!

Check out our roundup of the season’s best cold-weather gear >

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