Sep 4, 2020
As a woman of color, a runner, and a marketing guru, Alexandria Williams knows what it means to be overlooked by brands. She sees untapped value in audiences that companies have been missing, whether intentionally or otherwise. Now, the environment is catching up to these companies, and those that don’t act will miss out.
Like many black runners, Alex didn’t grow up with the idea that she would like running long distances. When she was a senior in high school, she joined her godmother in running a 5k. It wasn’t exactly a perfect race, (she got lost from her godmother during the race) but ended up at the finish line all the same where she found a celebration.
The afterparty made her think that she wanted to do this type of event again, but it wasn’t for many years until she would race once more. Alex ran that first 5k because of her godmother, who was also black. Her next long race wasn’t until she met another black runner.
In short, Alex has found a passion in running and in being a running influencer, but she never would have found this passion if it weren’t for a couple of happenstance moments and people. She wants to change that. Today she is working to give black runners a voice and a spotlight to help more of them find running.
In addition to having very few public examples of long-distance runners, black runners also have obstacles that many white runners haven’t dealt with or thought about. Firstly, Alex has to think about her safety continually. Before she even steps out the door, she is conscious of what she needs to do to prepare for a run.
“Anytime I’m leaving [the house] I have to think of protection,” says Alex as she describes picking out workout clothing that she knows others will recognize as running apparel.
What you may not realize, is that part of her protection is trying to make people understand she is just out for a run. Most of her clothing says the word “Run” or “Running” on it. If she carries pepper spray, she buys it in colorful options so people don’t mistake it as a gun. When she bends down to tie her shoe, she sometimes does so in the street just so she is far enough away from homes so she doesn’t appear to be burglarizing.
In fact, Alex says she has only felt completely safe in one run she has ever done. It was also a race, the Marine Corps marathon, where you have to enter through security in order to participate. For once, everyone knew that she was there to run, and that her running bib was actually hers. “It basically takes the military for me to feel safe while running,” says Alex.
These are not one-time thoughts for black runners. These aren’t adaptations they have had to make since Ahmaud Arbery’s death. This is simply the way of life.
Of course, this is not all. Runners of color also experience a lack of support and understanding from companies and other runners. Something as simple as the differences in body type go unnoticed. From haircare, to body shape, to skincare, unique people need unique products. One size does not fit all.
It’s time to be more inclusive, to add diversity, and to reach audiences that are currently unseen. We need more runners of color on magazine covers, more brand ambassadors that look like the people they are trying to reach, and more ways to include everyone.
“You can’t promote something that is [supposed to be] healthy and omit the people that are trying to get to that size,” says Alex. Including clothing that fits everyone and sponsoring people that can relate to more of your audience is a great way to add to a brand’s strategy.
We have a lot of work to do, but it’s always done step by step. Whether you are in a position of influence or a private individual, a CEO or a stay-at-home parent, black or white, you can make a difference. The power is yours and we all need all the help we can get.
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Thank you to Alexandria, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.