In 2012, Afrobella of the Month is BACK! Some months may be written by me, other months may be written by an expert or a contributor! This month’s AOTM is written by Renisha James, fitness expert and personal trainer. Learn more about her philosophies on fitness at, and follow her on Facebook or on Twitter! Take it away, Re!

Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks are the humble yet excited, focused yet fun-loving women who’ve founded, what is now, a national movement called Black Girls RUN! They were honored when I contacted them about being featured as “Afrobella(s) of the Month” and I couldn’t help but to be excited to talk to two women I consider role models. They’re beautifully natural, love their communities and seem to glow (even through the phone). Their influence is greater than even they can imagine. I made sure Toni and Ashley knew that they weren’t just two ladies who started a blog. They are embraced as go-getters and advocates for the health of Black women.

How it all got started…

If you’ve ever heard any crazy myths about running or walking or exercising in general and what it may do to you, you probably won’t be surprised about what Toni Carey’s mother had to say when she told her she wanted to start running. After breaking up with a boyfriend and trying out vegetarianism for the first time, Toni wanted to really step things up and start running. And if you’re a runner, you know how excited you were to get your new shoes and your gear and just get out there to try it. Well, when Toni called her mother to tell her the news, she was met with skepticism and concern that her uterus would fall out and that Black women don’t run. Crazy right?

“After talking to my mother, I called Ashley and told her story about what my mother said and we were both like, ‘That’s crazy! Black women DO run!” Toni said. Ashley agreed and even started a Nike+ Virtual running group called Black Girls RUN! Both ladies thought it would only be right to start a blog to share their experiences with the sport and also bring awareness that yes, black girls DO run! Ashley couldn’t believe the response they started getting. “Honestly, even in the early days when still on Blogspot and it was really just this generic blog that we’d created, we’d look at emails and just be so happy! Like, “Oh my God, someone’s reading our blog!”

Creating a Movement

I can be honest in saying that before I really started diving into the world of distance running, most of the images I saw were of white people. With the exception of Kenyan runners who run and win marathons, most of the running world, to me, didn’t have a Black presence. Toni and Ashley’s vision has definitely changed that. More and more black women are lacing up their running shoes to get outside and hit the pavement thanks to Black Girls RUN! But Toni and Ashley still haven’t fully grasped the impact their website has made.

“I don’t think we fully understand what we’ve created and how much of an impact we’re making. I still feel like it’s our little pet project and that hopefully black women will run,” Toni says. But even in their humility, Toni and Ashley understand that it has been successful, but still can’t fully grasp how big it is. “The stories that people tell us about getting started with the group and their weight loss. People who’ve never run a day in their life are now running. I don’t think we’ve taken the time to really realize the impact and the scope of it. I’ll go through sometimes and look at the groups (on Facebook) and I’m like ‘wow, I didn’t realize we had this many people or like 12,000 likes on Facebook.’ The sheer numbers surprise me to this day.” (Picture above from the December issue of Runner’s World that featured BGR! in an article entitled “Why is Running So White?” )

Our Health, Our Hair

The stereotype around the fact that black women don’t work out because of their hair is definitely being broken down more and more everyday especially in the community Toni and Ashley have created through the Facebook groups. Ashley says “I think it’s a good time to because we’ve kind of created this forum where people have so many resources to draw. You can post to your individual group and get information on how people are caring for their hair while working out. And I don’t think that network has always been there.” Websites, blogs, YouTube videos, new products – all of these are more accessible to women and provide a wealth of information to those who need to figure out some ideas on what to do with their hair while they workout. Is our hair still a barrier to our health? “I think it’s still an issue, but the conversation around it is different. And I think that just starting the conversation has helped tremendously… the conversation is changing from ‘I can’t work out today, because I just got my hair done’ to ‘well let me figure out how to manage this.’” Toni says.

On Caring for their Own Tresses

We all have our favorite products, hairstyles and quirks about our own hair. Both ladies are natural and embrace their hair with grace. Ashley is a wash-n-go kind of girl whose favorite products are Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk, Hair Rules Curly Whip
and olive oil. “And it just got long enough that I can wear a ponytail, so I’m really excited about that.” Toni’s hair is extremely coarse and she is still trying to nail down her own hair regimen. “(laughing) I probably need to have a consultation with Afrobella after this.” Some of her favorite products are Giovanni’s 50/50 conditioner, Hair Rules Curly Whip, and she uses almond oil and water as a refresher.

Advice for Beginners

Beginning a running routine can be scary, exciting, difficult and sometimes frustrating, so it’s important to try and start off on the right foot (see what I did there?). As women who’ve been running for a few years now, Toni and Ashley have been through it all and offer some great advice for newbies. Ashley says, “ I always tell people to first start with the Couch to 5K program. I think that is the best way to work your way into running. And then on top of doing the program, I tell everyone to go get fitted for running shoes.” Toni encourages beginners to make a commitment to what they want to do by even signing up for a race first. “Now, don’t make a half marathon or a marathon your first race, but start with a 5K and work your way up to a 10K and then maybe start looking at half marathons, but once you make that commitment and make up your mind to do it, it’s going to keep you on track.”

What’s your motivation?

Motivation for Toni and Ashley isn’t just an attempt to show their huge following that they run on a daily basis, it’s a little deeper than that. For both ladies, motivation to run and stay active comes from a desire to better themselves and stay accountable. “Running is really a way for me to meditate and clear my mind, so that really helps motivate me when I have things to think through. I just go for a run or a walk, but really, running helps me do that,” Ashley says. I guess my motivation is when I’m running and eating right and stuff I feel like I’m at my best and I just hate not feeling that way. Because when you know what your best feels like, you always want to be there.” Both ladies are fully aware that they’ve got a nation of runners watching them, counting on them to stay just as committed to running as they are.

What’s next for Black Girls RUN!

Can this amazing organization get any better at rounding up women to take better care of their health? Toni certainly thinks that there is definitely room to grow. “Well we’re definitely going to add more groups, hopefully internationally, which is really exciting. Basically, getting out into the community because we’re sort of doing this at a bird’s eye view and we know that we can make a much larger impact if we were actually in the communities doing things. So hopefully that’s part of the plan. Our website is going to become much bigger and better as well.”
I have no doubt that the movement Toni and Ashley have created will grow and flourish in to something the running world cannot ignore. And as more black women realize how important it is to be active and live a healthy lifestyle, Toni, Ashley and Black Girls RUN! will be there to support those women through every step.

You can find BGR! running gear at their online store: To find out if there’s a BGR! running group in your city, go to, and click on “Running Groups”. You can also follow BGR! on Twitter: @BlackGirlsRUN.


Sherrell says:
January 6, 2012, 11:30 am
Love this movement! I just started back to running last week and every day I feel stronger. Thanks for the inspiration!
BlackBetty says:
January 6, 2012, 11:35 am
Great article. As a member of BGR, I'm always motivated to run harder, faster, better by the other members. There's an incredible level of sisterhood and support present. Even if you walk or wog (walk/jog) someone is by your side, cheering you on. Toni & Ashley have started a phenomenal movement and I can't wait to see where it leads.
DJ Diva says:
January 6, 2012, 11:59 am
Loved this! I used to run track as a child and this article inspired me to want to begin again! Black Girls Rock (and Run)!!!
Candiew says:
January 6, 2012, 12:21 pm
Great article, great ladies! Perhaps they can take their message to young girls as well, particularly at the junior/high school levels, as many public schools are cutting out PE due to budget cuts. Also getting the message to our sisters at the lower income levels is another idea. Running does help clear the mind, and help with depression, as some recent studies have shown, and depression is something that women of low income status deal with on a regular basis. They are inspiration for all of us, I hope they keep getting support!
sandy says:
January 6, 2012, 12:30 pm
great article. Just wanted to say that "coarse" is the correct spelling for our hair. I think the author put "course" by mistake. Thank you.
Books says:
January 6, 2012, 12:46 pm
The idea of black girls not running has never occurred. I was on both the cross country and track team all through middle school and high school, and so we many of my friends. We would run cross country to help pre train for the track season. I still run every now and then to release stress. I'm glade these women started this organization but that it was necessary still baffles my mind.
bella says:
January 6, 2012, 1:14 pm
Edited. Thanks!!
styleosophy says:
January 6, 2012, 1:18 pm
Thanks for this article Bella. I have recently picked up was damn difficult at first. Now I am starting see little-by-little results. It great that they have started this organization and hope to see many more sisters out there debunking the myths that surround us being healthy, happy and fit.
Shanelle Gabriel says:
January 6, 2012, 2:50 pm
As a member of BGR, I give props to Afrobella for writing this article. I've been running for several months now, I've done a 5K, and I'm training for my first half marathon to benefit the SLE Lupus Foundation this March. I love how I feel when I run and the fact that I know I'm making my health a priority. I love the support that I've found by being a part of BGR. It's not just for runners either! We have some devout walkers and joggers. :)
Ashley Richardson says:
January 6, 2012, 4:07 pm
I like the movement of black girls run and their stories of others who started running. I also found a great site thaty puts everything together with fitness, nutrition and hair care. Sporty Afros. Those ladies kick butt! They are triathletes and always dress very trendy. You guys should spotlight these ladies. They are amazing and so honest. Check them out ...
Leslie says:
January 6, 2012, 8:19 pm
Member from NJ checking in!
Shon says:
January 6, 2012, 8:46 pm
I love this dynamic duo!! I have just recently joined my local BGR! Chapter here in Charleston, SC. Thank you so much for featuring these fierce pioneers!! Bravo!
AlexandraFunFit says:
January 7, 2012, 10:05 pm
You're so right about runners being mostly white. And female. Whenever we hunt for pictures to illustrate our blog posts, the pics are almost always of white women! Very well-written article and educational for me too, as I'm not a runner.
Susie says:
January 7, 2012, 10:43 pm
Love this group! Just decided to start running recently and the ladies at Black Girls RUN! Austin has been great inspiration and encouragement. I am so glad these ladies took the initiative to begin this movement. It is for the best.
Myne Whitman says:
January 7, 2012, 11:41 pm
I'm glad to read this, and wish the ladies all the best!
CuteKinks says:
January 8, 2012, 3:27 pm
Thank you so much for this article! I feel so silly because I am a black girl and I run, lol, but I wasn't aware of the movement. :( but now I know :)...again thanks and keep up the amazing work ladies!!
Markie says:
January 12, 2012, 11:16 am
This is so inspiring! What a healthy way to empower black women and raise self esteem :)
ki says:
January 14, 2012, 9:29 am
I joined my local BGR in July 2011- the weekly group runs assisted me in losing 15 pounds and running my first 10K in 1:04:00 - Thanks Black Girls Run!
Sandra Williams says:
January 2, 2013, 8:52 am
I would love to know where Black Girls Run meet,day,and time in Summerville SC?I have taken controll of my health now about two years.I do work out and do Zumba wich I love doing.I now want to add my other goal which is to be able to run for miles.It is time for me to step it up now my mind has been made up for some time now.I just need to know where to start at as I step out to take challenge.I know I will be able to do it thanks a lot for all the runners they have insrired me. Thanks Alot
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