A Boston running club is on a mission to break down the stigma that surrounds running in the Black community, and it's getting ready to hold its first solo fundraiser, an effort to support local racial justice groups.
When he started running in 2014, PIONEERS Run Crew founder Sidney Baptista would head from Dorchester, where he's from, to other parts of Boston to run because he felt that running for exercise in the Black community isn't usually encouraged.
In 2017, he started the group, intending to normalize running in Boston's Black neighborhoods as well as to bring people from various walks of life together to exercise.
"Living in Dorchester, born and raised, you never saw people running outside for long-distance running. So [PIONEERS Run Crew] normalizes it, it makes people feel comfortable running in their own neighborhood," Baptista said.
He started with people from his personal and professional life, and the group has grown into a melting pot of runners. There were about 60 at an evening run this week.
"Pre-pandemic, going to the bars and restaurants -- that's segregated, so you're not really finding meaningful connections with people outside of your neighborhood," Baptista said. "I think we provide that space."
Over the summer, amid the national reckoning over the police killings of unarmed Black people, the crew joined with other running groups to hold runs that raised funds for racial justice, Baptista said. And this month, "to advance the discussion," they're spearheading their first solo fundraiser as part of the cause.
That virtual 5K, More Than a Run, will take place from Sept. 25-30. The goal is to match a $30,000 pledge from Eastern Bank that will go to three local organizations that are working on racial justice: Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, Violence In Boston, Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy.
"We are essentially bringing the collective running community together to raise money for" those three organizations, Baptista said, because they "are fighting for racial justice in different ways."
The group runs every Wednesday, adhering to social-distancing protocols, and continues to welcome people to join.
Sabrina Antoine Correia, a PIONEERS member from Dorchester, joined the crew on her husband's recommendation, as a way to socialize.
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She said she never saw herself as a runner: "I always looked at running as torture ... it's like the only time you really run is because you had to."
Antoine Correia was nervous running around certain areas in Boston and was skeptical of the group at first.
"Where I'm from, you do not see people running in my neighborhood, and if they are running in my neighborhood it's because they're running from something," she said.
But as the group has grown into a community of runners, she's noticed that the perception of it has changed as well.
"When you change the perception, other people can feel that energy, and that makes you feel proud of what it stands for and what you're doing," she said.
Baptista added that, when people see them running, they can "see themselves in us."
"When we run down Dudley Street, Blue Hill Ave. and Washington Street, we have kids that are chasing us and people that are hanging out on their stoops and their patios. And they're cheering us on," he said.