When Maria Solis Belizaire runs alone in New York, she makes sure to cross the road to avoid cat calls and stretches at intersections to let people know she is actually a runner, not someone who “just runs down the street,” as she puts it. As an Afro-Latina, this kind of signage seems necessary to her. And that’s why Latin racethe community-oriented running group Solis Belizaire founded in 2016, is so impactful.
The organization, which has different chapters across the country, was created to be a safe space for Latino women to connect with each other — and their heritage — through running. Solis Belizaire emphasizes that Latinas Run includes all women who fall within the broad (and sometimes misunderstood) spectrum of Latin culture. “People think Latino is a race. [But] Latin Americans are black. They are Asian. They are white. And a lot of them are indigenous,” she says.
She was inspired to start the group after joining another running group specifically for black women (Solis Belizaire identifies as black and of Latin descent). “It was the first time that I found people who looked like me, that I found people who ran at the same pace as me, and also that I found a group of women who didn’t give up on me. And I fell in love with that sense of community. This camaraderie, she adds, gave her the courage to branch out and start her own club for women like her who also wanted to connect with their Latino heritage. “Some women [in the club] were black. Some were not. But they shared the culture of shame.
Solis Belizaire’s ultimate dream is to see running as a reflection of America’s diversity. And while groups like his help create space for marginalized communities, there’s still a long way to go to undo decades of racism and discrimination against black athletes — and black runners in particular.
“Black people have been scrutinized — literally and figuratively — since they arrived in this country more than 400 years ago,” says Damion Thomas, PhD, curator of sports at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Our physique, our athletic abilities and our intellectual abilities have been the cause of intense speculation.”
From intellectual inferiority theory (the belief that blacks are athletically superior but intellectually inferior) to natural ability theory (the belief that discounts hard work and instead suggests that blacks have innate athletic ability), myths racists are used to deliberately discredit black athletes, says Dr. Thomas. “Black people are winning, but people are still making arguments that black people [people] inferior.”
A runner who helps dismantle racist theories is Rudolph “Blaze” Ingram. The 11-year-old track and football athlete is proving, one viral Instagram post at a time, that practice, focus and perseverance are essential to athletic performance. According to Blaze’s father, Rudolph Ingram Sr., trust is also crucial. “He thinks he’s fast as a cheetah with the heart of a lion.”
For more on Blaze, Solis Belizaire and the biases surrounding Black athletic performance, watch the video above – the final installment in our three-part ‘Running While Black’ series with adidas.