13.1 miles. If you couldn’t already guess, this post’s title suggests it’s about the Brooklyn Half Marathon that occurred last weekend in yes, Brooklyn, NY. The writing below is a little about running, perhaps I’ll mention the distance again, but mostly it’s about community and the spirit that permeated the 13.1 mile stretch of the course. It’s about a random group of people that embarked on a shared activity, the people who came out to support them, and assuming, a shared love (or at least appreciation) for running and the borough (Marty Markowitz, we love you!).
NYRR (New York Road Runners) is a nonprofit organization based in NYC and to make a long story short, sponsors, hosts, and supports a majority of the running events in the city–the Brooklyn Half is included. They started in 1958 with around 40 members and the organization has multiplied its membership by 1000% to reach over 40,000 members today. That’s a lot of people; the total number of members constitutes the population of a small city. Or by comparison, a refugee camp in the Horn of Africa exceeds this number by double. Imagine the denizens of an entire city engaged in a running event? It’s comparable to all the residents of Binghamton, NY being members of NYRR and running a race; the city would have to recruit outside reporters to cover the event, and cheer!
What I found so striking about this activity was the sense of community that rested over the entire affair. From start to finish people came out to show their support. Musicians played as runners accumulated their beginning mileage–guitars, drums, even cheerleaders who ra-ra’d generated noise; streets were lined with signs and arms waving–“[Insert name here], beer is near!” or “Run, [insert name], run!” Quite encouraging even if you’re not the Bill, Mary, Yin Joo, or Ahmed that is written in bubble letters. What reaches and tugs at the inner heart strings as you’re running is the sheer volume of support people have for each other, over running. It was remarkable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love running. I became even more enthusiastic about it after completing the Brooklyn Half, actually. I found the joy in the community-support, the appeal in completing something, the adrenaline rush in rounding the last corner to see the final meters of the race fall under my feet, and I wonder…just wonder, what if we had that same amount of support, enthusiasm, awareness, and accumulation of people for other events. Like closing Guantanamo. Or the Keystone Pipeline (though group support has grown tremendously). Or art events raising money for nonprofits working with youth. Over 20,000 runners participated in the Brooklyn Half and what if just half that number took the leap to learn about a civil rights matter near their home? Or even 1%? What I think the Brooklyn Half demonstrates as do the examples of groups rallying for justice and active about climate change, are that in numbers, and with a community, we are capable and are responsible for mobilizing the public to do a VAST amount of social good. Brooklyn showed that it’s possible to cheer and support, to ignite people’s spirit and energize them to act. In this case, it occurred through running. Even the NYPD at mile 12 bellowed “You can do it.” I can’t help but wonder and become excited about thinking, what else can we do?
NYRR is just one example of how a collective can impart community values and systems of support. It spurs my own thoughts about who am I supporting locally and what groups of people do I “cheerlead” for? If we can amass the support I saw last Saturday in Brooklyn for a 1/2 marathon, not to discredit the success in accomplishing it, how can communities render this amount of collaboration, at home or across the globe for civil and human rights? ABC aired coverage of the event the following day, what role can media play in representing the efforts of a social movement addressing public goods?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”