When Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by two white men while he was out for a run near his Georgia home, Alison Désir couldn’t believe that nobody was acknowledging the travesty.
The mental health coach and founder of Harlem Run took to social media and asked why nobody cared, igniting a broader conversation about the racism and white supremacy within the sport and why Black runners often don’t feel welcomed into the running community.
“It was one of those moments for me that I felt like I was able to use my platform to bring a voice to all the people I had talked to, all those people I had been texting, ‘Damn, we can’t even go running in the middle of the day,’” Désir says. “I was able to give voice to all of us who share those concerns.”
She spent the rest of the year speaking on panels and organizing forums, amplifying a long-overdue conversation. In 2021 she has a book planned, The Unbearable Whiteness of Running, covering her efforts toward social change through distance running and a call for an inclusive fitness culture.
“People who are shocked by what happened to Ahmaud Arbery are in the beginning of their white racial identity, just realizing, ‘Oh my God, my whiteness carries meaning,’” Désir says. “When you are anti-racist, you recognize the privilege you have and use it in service of other people.”
This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.