Ariana Taylor grew up in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood, watching as five friends and one family member fell victim to gun violence within a span of six years. In March, she decided to work on creating an event to promote nonviolence in South Side neighborhoods.
About 10 miles to the north, Andrea NaTay was raised in Englewood, another violence-stricken Chicago neighborhood. After seeing so many of her neighbors live unhealthy lifestyles, she decided to start Forever Fitness Chicago, a personal training company focused on health living in the city.
The two women found each other on Instagram in June and started collaborating on an idea to address nutrition and violence issues on the South Side. Together, the two women have organized the first ever 5K race in Englewood. It will be run Nov. 2.
“Positive things can happen in Englewood. You don’t have to be from downtown Chicago, the Gold Coast, to do something positive,” said Taylor, who has joined Forever Fitness Chicago as its special events coordinator.
From Sept. 13 to Oct. 13, 97 violent crimes occurred in Englewood, according to the Chicago Tribune. Almost 47 percent of Englewood households fall below the poverty line and 97 percent of Englewood residents are black, according to 2010 census data.
With the race a little more than two weeks away, getting runners to sign up has proved challenging. The race can handle up to 900 runners, but currently only 240 individuals have registered. In order to break even, NaTay and Taylor need 250 runners to participate. Tickets for the event cost $20.
To address safety concerns at the event, NaTay and Taylor have arranged for the Chicago Police officers to man checkpoints at the race.
Risk of violence is expected to be low given the event’s charitable nature and timing during the morning hours, said Perry Gunn, executive director for the community organization, Teamwork Englewood. “For a good cause like this, that’s the kind of event [with little concern] for any violence, Gunn said.
The “Ditch the Weight and Guns Englewood 5K Walk and Run” will span a 3.1-mile course from 67th Street and Racine Avenue, and conclude at the entrance of Ogden Park. Speakers at the end of the event will focus on nutrition, fitness and violence prevention.
“We’re fitness ambassadors for Englewood,” NaTay said. “It’s an underserved community … no one takes as interest as far as fitness and nutrition for the community. ”
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Harper High School athletic department and Forever Moving Forward, a nonprofit empowerment group for young women, unrelated to Forever Fitness Chicago.
“When you’re in a community such as Englewood–and Harper is no stranger to gun violence–it’s like a twofold goal here,” said Leonetta Sanders, principal at Harper High School. She was referring to the role that athletics can play in keeping teenagers off the street and reducing gun violence as well as helping them stay fit. The school’s athletic department will use the money from the race for new uniforms and equipment, she said.
Taylor and NaTay also want the event to address the obesity epidemic within the black community. Obesity rates are running almost 60 percent for black women over the age of 20 and nearly 40 percent for black men in the same age range, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We don’t see that many African American people outside exercising from my personal experience,” Taylor said. “It will be more exciting to see us all out there doing something healthy and positive.”
Students and staff from the Harper High School will be volunteering at the event. The school’s cheerleaders will perform on the sidelines “This generation of kids especially needs to be actively involved in giving back to their own community because it is what they make it,” Sanders said.
NaTay and Taylor plan to make the Englewood 5K an annual event. They also hope to expand 5K events to other low-income Chicago communities.