Run Journal: The Power of Representation

I sat simmering in the intensity of pain and darkness.  Life had left me shattered.  Broken.  I was down.  But I didn't know what was to come.


Watching YouTube videos that night I found myself looking at Ironman motivational videos.  Video after video I watched.  Minutes turned into Hours.  


Adrift in the ocean of my sorrows, set a sail in the burdens of the world.  With no land in sight, my eyes watched in utter shocked and focused intently.  There is no way I could be seeing what I'm seeing.  


Across the screen in the darkness of the living room was a man I had never met.  A person with skin hues like mine.  As he crossed the finish line of IronMan, emotions ran wild and he had become an "IronMan".


Call me naive.  Call me sheltered.  But until that moment.  That video.  I had no idea that people who resemble me participated in the famed "IronMan".  


My heart swelled and tears fell.  For within there was a spark of something.  


I had become a marathoner by accident.  Running as a result of deteriorating health from work stress forced me to the alter of health.  Which lead me to a foolish promise to myself from a decade earlier to complete a marathon.   


Yet life had me in its grip where I needed to escape further.  I needed to push farther.  To find harder.  In short, it was during the time I wanted to physically hurt as deeply as my soul was tormented.  But I couldn't find that push. 


Despite the multiple images on line or articles I read there was still that invisible barrier which had been placed there years earlier in my youth.   I didn't see myself in any of these images.


Sure, there are professional athletes.  But they are professionals.  They are different than me.  A subset of individuals who a couple of decades younger or started during their elementary or high school days.  In short, not representative of a black man from Ensley Alabama in his 40s struggling through life changes trying to claw their way through the darkness of life.  


Just trying to find a glimpse of peace in this arena of running.  


I would see few people of color, if any at trail events I attended.  When I would trek out on the road on my day off in the wilderness, rarely I would ever cross paths with someone who looked like me.  


From the outside, I was doing that damned thing.  And I was.  But it was a lonely journey.


I soon found others with hues like mine online who were doing amazing things.  Spread across the country representing.  Inspiring.  Motivating.  Who knew.  Because in the mainstream, images of people who look like a washed up middle age black man like me doing amazing things other than being the villian, the victim, or only achieving greatness because of help and motivation from the traditional "Jesus" or "Mother Mary" are rare.  


I eventually found the Black Men Run group, which not only encourages a healthy lifestyle and brotherhood, but also inspires simply through imagery of highlighting black men within urban communities doing an ordinary thing like running.  


But that night sparked the start of my expanding community.  A simple image from a YouTube video inspired me to push and run my first 50K, which set me on a path to run my first 100k.  And that 100K gave me a glimpse of the infamous 100 mile distance, which last year in 2019 I completed my third in a full suit!    


Marketing drives sales.  And sales drive the product.  Minority communities have limited spending potential which limits direct marketing and as a result sadly targeted advertising with images who resemble the target. 


In America, "Black" Americans represent roughly 13% of the population.  Cut that in half roughly, for black men.  Over 40% of black males will have been arrested before the age of 25 in America.  Roughly a third will have been arrested for a felony.  Many of whom will have those charges dropped, thrown out, or found innocent.  However in many cases, the fight to have records expunged is expensive.


The point is the pool of marketing dollars targeting black men is...  Let's just say...  very small.  So with that comes the imagery marketed to the community.  A self fulfilling prophecy per-se.  


I remember entering college.  I quickly found images of individuals who looked like me doing extraordinary things outside of sports.  Outside of the stereotypes.  Folks involved in politics.  Folks involved in various clubs.  Folks involved in community projects.  Folks giving back to the nearby communities.  Folks doing the damned thing.  


The brothers would inspire me that it was indeed possible to graduate.  To lean on when I couldn't find the strength within myself.  Eventually playing major roles in what would become my adult career choices leading me to where I am today.  A middle class wrinkling black man who has an impressive amateur running record.  


All from the power of representation.  


I'm not going to say my upbringing didn't assist or aid in my growth.  But my immediate family weighed heavily female.  So my male representatives were limited, yet I'm thankful for my grandpa and the brief time I had with my uncle before his passing.  Or others, like Mr. Cook in the 8th grade who reinforced the power of proper speech and english.  


Childhood was crazy in the south.  The news constantly displayed images of black men daily being arrested for this or that.  With the closing of the nearby steel mill and the rush of drugs into the inner city took it's toll psychologically.  It was as if we were being prepared for a fate or destiny set before us.  


The stories of civil rights and the accomplishments, thus a few years prior seemed like a imaginary dream of black pride or fable tales of a brief moment where there was sparkle of hope within the community.  My world was turning dark fast.  


Yet I would find solace in the innocence of childhood and Saturday morning cartoons.  Superfriends!  Loved that show and was the show where a superhero would spark my imagination.  Black Vulcan!  


My love for Black Vulcan and Superfriends got me into comics.  Which I found Spiderman as my childhood favorite.  But this love for comics to escape lead me to discover Powerman, Falcon, Storm, John Stewart-Green Lantern, and of course Black Panther.  


As a side note I am also a huge fan of sci-fi too.  But I digress...


Interesting how fantasy can allow the innocence of a child to escape the realities of life even further, remove the inconvenience of no hot running water, eliminate ills of living in a city in decline, and overcome the stings of poverty.  


Years would go by.  And being who I am gravitated towards movies where I could see images of myself.  I was fortunate to work in a DVD rental store during high school, where I could rediscover movies of various genres.  International movies.  Movies which would further expand my mind and my world.  All through the power of the moving pictures.  


Blade was cool, but I never got into Blade as a child.  But I loved the movies and watched every one.  


2016 was the year.  Sure Falcon had been introduced in the Marvel universe.  Falcon had a minor role and not a major character in the series.  But Black Panther?  You can't introduce Black Panther as someone's sidekick or in a minor role.  


When the image of Black Panther appeared on the screen I was transported back to my childhood.  That feeling inside of innocence.  That you can accomplish anything. Where the ills of the world become a backdrop.  And his introduction on the Marvel scene in Captain America: Civil War came at a pivotal time in my life's journey when a war was warring within.  


My mema had recently fractured her hip.  A little over a year removed from my step-dad's death.  Still struggling through wreckage of health care expenses of his year long cancer care.  Shattered relationships abounded.  I was in a constant state of presenting a public positive image, swimming in my own personal despair while attempting to keep family afloat in the troubled seas.  Depression was a constant fight. 


I was within the first 130 days of my run streak.  I had not found my inner warrior to overcome my mental woes.  I was still crawling through the pain to find pain.  I had not evolved form my transitional cocoon. 


It would be another 5 months before I found myself in the dark of the night climbing Pemberton Trail with my pacer, Connie, in so much physical pain, I thought to myself to hug a nearby cactus.   A few hours later I would complete my first 100k (62 miler). 


It would be another 19 months before I cross the finish line on the Daytona beach in Florida with the Atlantic ocean to the east.  


The place where I finally found balance within myself.  Where I was able to fully accept my inner warrior.  Where I found to accept my reality.  Where I rediscovered myself from years of being lost in the fog.  


The Power of Representation is huge.  It's the reason, despite my introvert nature, I publish images of my minor feats.  My attempt to pass the torch for someone to reach farther than I.  To reach beyond their fears.  To push past limitations imposed upon them, imprisoned within their own minds from the lack of imagery. 


Black Panther on the screen had a profound impact on my running shenanigans and my ongoing life journey.  


Let me provide you with a little insight of my last tattoo in which I haven't openly shared anywhere, most simply overlooked this part as a designed element and only a handful have dared to inquire.  Done by design of course being the secretive quiet to myself person I am.


My tattoo which celebrates my first 100 mile completion has many important elements about my personal struggles.  Most of which I shared with this post about my latest running tattoo.  


However I strategically omitted some information about my personal mission statement which I found within myself during my darkest hours above and stays with me in the present "Reach beyond your fears. Push past your limits."   


"Reach beyond your fears." is prominently displayed at the top in a banner styled in the official Daytona 100 logo.


Image and angle I always share of my tattoo

With the second part, the more daring challenging part of my mission statement outlining the right boarder "...Push past your limits." in Wakandan script. 

hidden on the backside next to the side of my chest

Because limits are self imposed prisons formed within the mind.  Some passed down to you.  Some handed to you through critisim and weakness of others.  Some through other's fears for your success.  To push beyond these limits imposed requires so much more than facing one's fears.  But to face one's fears and then to push past those limits imposed by fear is where you truly find who you are.  


So when the news came via text last night that actor Chadwick Boseman had died of cancer at the age of 43, I had to fight back the tear in the corner of my eye.  


My mind quickly took me through the the many roles in which he played.  But focused on the most important one.  Not for me, but for a generation of kids with hues like mine who saw themselves on the screen in a positive light.  With strengths and abilities equal to those of any Avenger seen at that time.  


I was taken back to the tears I shared when I first saw the motion picture Black Panther, which was well written albeit under funded in my opinion.  I shed tears because I saw Black Fathers with their young boys in the theater.  I saw people of all shades and hues seeing a great story set in a mythical land that which included struggles of oppression, political ideologies, social issues, and most importantly the power of representation.  


Rest in peace Chadwick.  Your character off the screen showed through your portrayals on screen.  Thank you for taking me this far on this journey through my childhood innocence and adult trials.   


Time will cause the ink on my arm to increasingly blur and fade, but the impact and power of representation you provided will last for generations to come.  

Quick gem "Black Panther and the Power or Representation" is a psychological study of the power of representation from a social scale and not a personal experience.  Much love everyone. 

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