Running in protest: Activists race in Washington Square Park for racial justice and gun violence awareness during Black History Month

Coffey, founder of Running in Protest, speaks before the run in Washington Square Park.
Photo by Dean Moses

Activists and an Olympian raced for justice on Sunday in Manhattan to honor those lost to gun violence amid Black History Month.    

Black Lives Matter protests slingshotted into the public consciousness over the course of summer 2020 after the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, most publicized of whom being George Floyd. But organized marches calling for equal rights are nothing new, they date back to the early 20th century.

Founder of Running in Protest, Coffey (who publicly goes by his last name only), is striving to continue the legacy paved by civil rights leaders who came before him while also putting a new, healthy spin on the call for justice.   

Well over 100 individuals gathered beside the fountain in Washington Square Park on Feb. 21. Upon first glance, pedestrians would be forgiven for believing they had stumbled onto the site of a marathon with runners decked out in sports gear and signs fastened to their backs.

Dressed mostly in white, this large group was preparing to jog through the streets of Lower Manhattan in an attempt to raise awareness of the deaths of the iconic Malcolm X and Ahmaud Arbery, both of whom perished due to gun violence. In place of identifying numbers, each participant exhibited Arbery’s named taped to their body.

Power Malu discusses the run. Photo by Dean Moses

This form of protesting has been taking place every month since June of 2020 with each run advocating for a different cause, but for many in attendance this makeshift, Black History Month marathon held a special place in their hearts.

“We have been going through this for 400 and something years, so regardless of what happened to Malcolm X and what happened to Mr. Arbery in 2020, as I speak today in 2021 it is still the exact same thing that is going against our people and that is something we have to stop,” Coffey said.

Many runners have their desires written on their faces. Photo by Dean Moses

The concept behind Running in Protest is to unify like-minded health advocates and activists to engage in a positive exercise to call for positive changes — and the organization has a famous fan.

Olympic medalist Race Imboden joined the run Sunday morning, praising the unique way in which they call to action. Already a staunch Black Lives Matter supporter, Imboden took a knee at the Pan American Games and participated in protests in Los Angeles. However, he learned about Running in Protest after Sports Illustrated writer Chris Chavez informed him about the group’s work.     

“Anytime people can combine things that make them happy, keep them healthy, form community–you know it is a really difficult time right now for mental health. Suicides are 60% of gun violence deaths and this kind of community, and this kind of outreach for people to be able to talk and come together to talk and be healthy is a win,” Imboden said.    

Olympic medalist Race Imboden joined the run Sunday morning. Photo by Dean Moses

The runners congregated in the shadow of the Washington Square Arch where they discussed gun violence statistics and their continued social justice work before setting off. Black History month was a big talking point, both celebrating the lineage of black lives in America and the future landmarks yet to be made. 

NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver joined both the run and the discussion.

Beginning by acknowledging that the area beneath his feet once belonged to Native American people, he went on to speak of the efforts he has been making to remake sections of New York City parks after those lost too soon.

“We want to change the landscape to reflect the experiences of Black Americans,” Silver began. “We have to tell these stories so people know we matter. We are going to another round that we are going to name on Juneteenth of this year. You can go to the park’s website and you can recommend a person that you believe should be recognized.”                

NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver talked on the importance of remembering history. Photo by Dean Moses

The run got underway at 11 a.m. and culminated at the Vegan Community Fridge outside Overthrow Boxing Club on 9 Bleecker Street. 

Runners raced for change. Photo by Dean Moses 
Running in Protest sought to bring gun violence awareness for Black History Month. Photo by Dean Moses


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