Q & A with Jay Ell Alexander: CEO of Black Girls RUN!

Interview with Jay Ell Alexander, Founder of Black Girls RUN!

Black Girls RUN! is an organization that was created in 2009 in response to the increasing obesity epidemic in the African-American community. It has grown exponentially and now has a thriving blog, 75 running groups throughout the US, and members in 35 states. Black Girls RUN! is a pro-woman movement, and though its primary mission is to empower black runners, the organization wants you to know that “if you’re black, white, purple or pink, we encourage you to follow our blog too. After all, we women have to stick together”.

Find the Black Girls RUN! site here.

Jay Ell Alexander became the CEO of Black Girls RUN! in 2018. Along with her responsibilities as CEO, she is also an author, active volunteer, and impressive runner herself.

I reached out to Jay Ell with some questions. Here are her answers!

TTC: A lot of overweight people are self-conscious and afraid that running might be harmful because of the weight they carry. Do you have any advice for them?

Jay Ell Alexander: I get it. We definitely advise getting a physical or doctor’s approval if you are starting a workout routine for the first time, or carrying extra weight. Very often we see people have injuries early on if they do not start on their journey with the right first steps (no pun!). But, do not be afraid to just start! The hardest step is the first step. Get fitted for some good shoes and just start moving – walk, run, jog – just move! As the weight drops, we promise it will get a little bit easier.

TTC: You started running after finishing grad school, right? What was the motivation and how did you start?

Jay Ell Alexander: Yes, I started running in 2010 after graduating graduate school. I was an athlete through high school and was active in college, but after becoming an adult and being on my own, I was not as active. I hit my “then” heaviest weight at 237 pounds – a combination of inactivity and happy weight (starting dating my “now” husband). I really needed to change my life around. The weight also contributed to me having a short period of high blood pressure. I had a doctor that told me I was way too young to start medication. I needed to change my activity level and diet asap. I signed up for a local 10K in Richmond, VA and joined their training team. It was the motivation and community I needed to get started and I have been passionate about running since.

TTC: Why did you choose to run?

Jay Ell Alexander: I think running was the easiest thing for me. I was not at a point in my life that I wanted to join a gym – mentally or financially. I am not a big fan of fitness classes and did not want to do a team sport, so running became my thing.

TTC: How has your love of running developed over the years?  

Jay Ell Alexander: I have a love – hate relationship with running, lol. I have ran a lot of races, all distances and still sometimes running a mile some days feels like the most daunting task. But, once I lace up and hit the pavement, it feels so good! Even better, when I am done! I am still a student of the sport, for sure. I still have goals I want to achieve with running.

TTC: How did you find out about Black Girls RUN! (BGR!) and what made you want to join the team?

Jay Ell Alexander: I found out about Black Girls RUN! from a professional colleague. BGR! was looking for a public relations director to help manage the brand as they started to launch in communities across the country. I applied for the job, had a phone interview and then they had me fly to New York to manage a media event. I slept head to toe with the cofounders in a studio apartment and here we are 9 years later. I fell in love with BGR! because of the community and the impact we have in the lives of so many women across the country. 

TTC: How does BGR! encourage its members?

Jay Ell Alexander: How don’t we encourage our members is the question? We have a group of women across this country that are doing everything to make sure we show up, stay motivated, encouraged and you know you have an entire tribe behind you pushing you to the finish line. We cheer you on, “peer pressure” you into signing up for a race, high five you, smile, give you a hug, challenge you and anything else you need!

TTC: Can you tell us more about BGR! races? The Civil Rights Race Series just ended. Do you have any upcoming events in the works?

Jay Ell Alexander: We are completely virtual right now with our national events. We have some local groups across the country that are starting to reunite on the pavement and putting in safety measures to make sure we can make this happen. We have a virtual that kicked off today and starts August 15th where we are linking women across the country to tackle 50, 100 or 200 miles virtually. We are partnering black women with non-black women to run and bring our community together through running virtually. In our current social climate, it is important for us to show solidarity and support for each other.

TTC: How has COVID-19 impacted your organization?

Jay Ell Alexander: COVID-19 had an impact on our organization and the running world as a whole. Our meetup in March in Alabama was cancelled a week before the event and for the next four months we pivoted to a completely virtual environment. We hosted free exercises classes for our members for nearly three months, virtual challenges and runs to keep women engaged and motivated. 

TTC: Wow. You adapted very quickly! I have one last question for you. If there was one piece of advice you could give all beginner runners, what would it be?

Jay Ell Alexander: Just start. It’s your pace, your race. Keep moving!

Become a member of Black Girls RUN! here!

Need some more inspiration in your life? Read Caroline’s incredible running transformation story.

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