Co-founders Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey launched Black Girls RUN! in 2009 to support women of color in the running community. Carey (right) shares an experience she had that reminds us on MLK Day 2016 that we are all runners–and we are all cheerleaders for one another.

photo-1-1-1024x576-2A few weeks ago I tweeted about an unusual encounter I had at my local YMCA.

It was a weekday morning and I hit the gym early that day to get in a quick run before the day started. It was chilly that morning, so I had on my uber warm Black Girls RUN! hoodie on. As I handed the desk attendant my membership card, she frowned at my hoodie and said, “White girls run too!”

Mind you, I’m not 100 percent awake until I’ve tackled a mile or two. I responded by saying, “Yeah, well we all run.”

Unfortunately, my brain wasn’t working quick enough to shoot back a witty response. But the encounter got even weirder.

She said, “Yeah, we all run, especially if running from big dogs.”

As you can imagine, my only response was a blank stare as I couldn’t muster the brain waves to even try to begin to figure out what had just happened. I hurried off to the treadmill and hoped I could avoid her on my way out.

It was the first time someone of another ethnicity verbally questioned and got defensive about Black Girls RUN! But I get the non-verbal questions all the time. Some of my own white friends aren’t exactly sure why there’s a need for BGR! But most want to know if they are allowed to fan our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

While I can pontificate on this a lot more, I began thinking, “Are we somehow, with all good intentions, being discriminatory or defensive?,” “Shouldn’t we encourage ALL women to run?,” “Should we change our name to Black Girls RUN! (and white girls run too)?”

But, then I remembered why we started this. The alarming statistics that are so real to us everyday. Our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who are plagued with the diseases and health issues due to cultural culinary fare ingrained in the African-American community, and the belief that our hair is more important than our health.

I’ve realized that the importance and the urgency for black women to live healthier (both mentally and physically) can’t be explained or understood by someone who didn’t grow up seeing how much health and wellness has impacted our race. And nor do I expect them to.

However, I do expect not to be judged for a movement that is imperative to our community. I do expect their support. I do expect them to join the movement, because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

So for all the white women who follow us (or would like to), you don’t have to stand on the sidelines and watch from a distance. We want and need your support. Be a part of the movement! After several weeks of thinking about what the appropriate response should have been to the desk clerk at the YMCA, I’m still not sure what her intention was. But, I wish I could have given her a Black Girls RUN! hoodie and offered her an opportunity to join the BGR! movement. Sometimes people just want to be included or at least that’s what I’d like to think.

*Train Like a Mother this spring and have your best training experience—and strongest race—ever. Registrations for 10K, half-marathon, and marathon programs in Train Like a Mother Club close January 24.