Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks on the Success of “Black Girls Run!”

CareyWhen a playlist featuring an assortment of tough tunes like ?Bang Bang,? by Ariana Grande and ‘How You Like Me Now,? by The Heavy titled ?Fall For Running and Run Happy,? Toni Carey, co-founder of Black Girls Run, wanted to make the point that yes, Black girls can run, too.

From an initial meeting at a dance club back in college to becoming sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated and now business partners ? Carey and co-founder Ashley Hicks have formed a friendship that spans over 10 years. Started in 2009, Black Girls Run! hosted a tweet-up in 2011 for the Georgia Public Marathon in Atlanta. But with a great turnout from supporters, BGR! now has 70 running groups across the country and more than 150,000 members. Working to combat health risks and negative stereotypes of women in the African American community, Carey realized that with new a mission in mind, BGR! couldn?t be moonlighted, and took a leap of faith and quit her full-time PR agency job.

With the title of marathon runner under her belt, Carey isn?t the adventure-runner type. However, she can say that she?s the recipient of the Standing O-vation Award from Oprah Winfrey?s Live the Life You Want tour. Here, caught up with Carey to discuss the collaboration:? Did you ever think BGR would be this impactful?

Carey:? No. When we first started, we thought we were going to write a book, and that was going to be it because that?s what bloggers did. We had no idea it would turn into this movement, and impact women ? besides getting active and losing weight, and living a healthier lifestyle, but really helping women come into their own and find their own voice and reclaim who they are. Because as women, we just put ourselves last, and lose our voice along the way. BGR has helped a lot of women redefine who they are to live a complete healthy lifestyle ? mind, body and spirit. What is one of the most memorable stories or testimonies you?ve witnessed?

Carey:? I was here in Atlanta, and I ran into a restaurant to grab something to eat. A lady stopped me, and? she was a BGR member. She said that she had moved to Atlanta to be with her daughter who had cancer and that the only thing that got her through her daughter’s illness, and ultimately her daughter?s passing, was having BGR in her life. And from my perspective, that experience was very difficult and challenging.? Being an entrepreneur and running a business when you?ve never run one before, you kind of get caught up in the day-to-day. And for me, that was a reminder that things could be a lot worse, and that people are really depending on this sisterhood that we?ve created. It?s something that we say all the time.? But, it’s something that?s real, and to think that this woman has gone through one of the most difficult things that she ever has to go through and she?s attributed it, going through it successfully, to BGR.? Do you consider BGR your hobby or your passion?

Carey: I would take it a step further and say it?s my purpose. The magnitude of the success that we?ve had, in really a short period of time, can?t be specified other than “purpose” – this is what we?re supposed to be doing. I don?t feel like this is the end for me. I think there?s more to come, but this is definitely what I?m supposed to be doing right now. When you start walking in your purpose, things align the way they should, and it?s such a scary walk. I remember having this conversation with my husband when I told him that I wanted to quit my job, I remember just being really, really scared, but then also, something deep down inside confirmed this is what I’m meant to be doing because this is something that?s really needed. I would challenge anyone to really take time and find out what your purpose is. What is life when you?re just kind of living and not contributing or doing what you?re meant to be doing? When was that defining moment when you quit your job and made BGR your full-time job?

Carey: Where I was actually working wasn?t really fulfilling to me. So, I was kind of miserable, so to speak. It wasn?t necessarily that the work I was doing was miserable, or the people I was working with were miserable. I just found myself always thinking about BGR, and what I can be doing. And even at that point, opportunities to travel were being presented and working a full-time job wouldn?t allow for that. I just realized that when I was working on BGR, I was much happier. ?I?d rather be happy doing something I enjoy every day, maybe not making as much money or any money than to be going to a job where I?m making money, but I?m not happy. And again, it’s not easy to make that decision ? at all. But I?m fortunate to have a husband that is super supportive. How important is a support system?

Carey: A support system is having people around you who have your best interests at heart and feed you spiritually and emotionally. My support system brings things into perspective. The sooner you can conquer that and find that core group of people, the better. How important has social media been to BGR! ?

Carey: Social media has been absolutely critical for BGR because when we started our running group that?s how we gained and still managed running groups? through Facebook. And also we’ve met so many people personally and professionally we wouldn?t have otherwise met. Social media has opened up doors and business opportunities. It’s? served as a resource for brainstorming ideas. It’s just been incredible. What advice do you have for beginners who want to get on track?

Carey: Your health is really all you have. You only have one body and you?ve got to make it last as long as possible. So, you want to put your best foot forward. I use running as a stress reliever. I?ve dealt with depression over the years, and it’s helped me tremendously in navigating through that. And, I?ve never finished a run and said, ?Man, I feel like crap.? I always feel amazing after a run. It?s all about having a better quality of life. I don?t think anyone is cool with feeling sluggish and tired all the time.? It?s really about prolonging your life, for as long as you can.? You guys are all about ?Your Health is Your Wealth,? and ?Preserving the Sexy,? what are other changes you?d like to see in the future for women in the African American community?

Carey: In the African American community, we so often put ourselves in this hole of what black people can and cannot do. I feel like there are so many awesome things out there in the world that we don?t experience because we?ve been told there are certain things that we don?t do. For me, it would be breaking all the stereotypes ever of what typically defines our culture. What?s next for BGR?

Carey: So, obviously we want to continue to further the brand and get more members, and really focus on getting into more local communities. A big part of this is education and what we’ve found is that people just don?t have the tools to make good decisions. And it sounds sedimentary or like a cop out, but there’s really a lack of resources when it comes to African Americans really understanding what a healthy lifestyle means. We want to have a lot more events in the local communities, and we want to extend our partnership.? This year, we partnered up with Girls on the Run and Saint Jude?s Children?s Research Hospital. We want to focus on giving back to the community because we feel very fortunate to be in this position, and we just want to be able to serve people as well. It’s not a major thing; it’s just getting into the local communities, educating and extending our partnership. Two to three years ago you started this, where do see yourself in the next two to three years?

Carey: For BGR, our ultimate goal is to be able to look and see that obesity statistics for African American women have decreased. That would be the ultimate win for us.

And I think personally, my goal is just to be able to continue this journey and find what my passion is. I think health and fitness are definitely part of it. I definitely have a passion for marketing and PR, and there are other things I? want to do. Continuing to just make change happen is so important. It?s so easy to stay on the sidelines, look at this world and complain. But my goal is to become an active participant in this thing we call life and leave a legacy for my children and show everyone that you can take responsibility and make change happen. Change is still possible. What?s one thing you would want someone to learn from you?

Carey: The art of perseverance; it?s so easy to quit. I think we give up right at that point where something really good happens. And, I would say if there?s something that you want to do, that’s on your heart, that you feel is your purpose, just keep trying for it – even if you get knocked down. Don?t stop if it’s something you really believe in because eventually the breakthrough will happen.