NORFOLK--The summer of 2013 has been unrelenting when it comes to rainy days, heat and humidity.
Dozens of African-American women have put vanity aside and are hitting the streets to run, or in some cases, walk their way to good health.
Two groups in Hampton Roads, one on the Southside and one on the Peninsula, are part of a National organization called Black Girls Run. BGR started as a blog, but today its members across the country are spreading information and inspiration online and on the streets.
On a Thursday night in July, a couple dozen mostly black women gathered at the Helper statue outside the Chrysler Museum in the Ghent section of Norfolk. Starting with a mini pep-rally, they hit the pavement around the Hague and then made their way through Ghent. They are hard to miss, as many of the woman are clad in hot pink and black.
Being noticed is part of the plan, says BGR member Farriah Hickson.
"So we are trying to get the knowledge out to the community and the best way for us to do this is to show up on the pavement. We run through the neighborhood so people can see us, stop us, and ask us what we are doing and what the benefits are," explained Hickson.
Many of the girls had sedentary lifestyles just a few months ago, but they are now determined to take aim at the health problems that are crippling the black female population in America. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, four in five African-American women are overweight or obese. One in four African-American women older than age 55 has diabetes, and African-American women are more likely to die from heart disease when compared with women from other groups.
While gathering cheers from passersby, the women know this is a personal mission and a mission to help their families and entire communities.
"When you think about it, the backbone of a community, the backbone of a family, how can you take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself," says Hickson.
Collectively, the group has shed hundreds of pounds. Runner Nicole Wigfall has dropped 37 pounds in two years, and she is not shy about sharing her success on her Facebook page.
"I wasn't happy with myself and I got tired of looking at everybody else, so I said to myself two years ago, I can't do this [sedentary lifestyle] anymore and I want to do something about it," she wrote.
Black Girls Run is open to all and members even encourage mothers with little ones to bring their children to running events.