By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Zaakiyah Brisker says that running transformed her life.
“At one point, I was really sad because I weighed 225 pounds,” she said. “Around 2015, I made up my mind to lose weight. I went to the gym and started running on the treadmill until I gradually upped my run from 20 minutes a day to an hour.”
After a few months, Brisker decided to trade in the treadmill for the streets.
“I started running through parts of Los Angeles on my own,” she said. “Running started as a weight loss tool but it became a form of therapy and I also discovered landmarks and places that I had never seen before.
“When I was running through South Los Angeles, people would cheer me on and give me ‘dap.’ Others would yell that I was doing a really nice thing for myself.”
Eventually seeking an alternative to running solo, Brisker began scrolling through Instagram searching for a running club to join in her area.
“But most of the clubs I found were either located in Santa Monica, Venice or Hollywood and none of the clubs held running events in South Los Angeles,” she said. “I found that when I started running on the westside, I did not get the same reception as I did in South Los Angeles. I felt so at home running in South L.A.”
Jazmin Garcia, a 31-year-old student and South Los Angeles native who took up running in 2017, decided to register the name South Central Run Club with Instagram in 2018.
Brisker had also attempted to register the name South Central Run Club but found that it was already taken.
“I messaged Jazmin through Instagram and I offered to help with the club,” Brister said. The two women joined forces to resurrect the club after the pandemic greatly impacted the membership in 2020.
“We became co-captains of the club with the goal of healing our community through running,“ Brisker said. “Usually we get as many as 30 runners to participate in each run but the crowd can get as high as 125.”
The club notifies runners of upcoming runs through its extensive email list.
“We run every Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and we are adding a night run every second Thursday of the month starting at 7 p.m.,” Garcia said.
According to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services, exercise like running can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and a host of other conditions. What’s more, scientists have shown that running also vastly improves the quality of a person’s emotional and mental health.
Residents in South Los Angeles have the highest rate of health disparities and one of the club’s goals is to mitigate the number of health concerns that plague South Los Angeles residents.
“We work on moving our bodies and we do meditation at the end of the runs,” said Garcia, who added that running has made her more aware of her body. “I think about my breathing and what I’m eating. And at the end of the runs, we do a cool down stretch and meditation.
“We try to run to cultural landmarks that highlight the beauty of our community in South Los Angeles and then we talk about the history of each place,” said Garcia, who added that members of the club have run to landmarks such as the headquarters of the Black Panther Party on Central Avenue and to the original location of Fatburgers on Western Avenue, one of the first hamburger stands owned by an African-American woman in Los Angeles.
“Many people didn’t know she even existed,” Garcia said.
Recently, they ran to the Homeboy Industries in Chinatown. The group has also visited schools such as Audubon Middle School and the University of Southern California.
Right now, we’re planning our third annual Turkey Trot on Nov. 18. The run has an anti-white supremacy theme.
“Instead of erasing the horrible history of Thanksgiving, we honor our history and resilience,” Brister said. “We hold the run to celebrate the history of Black and brown people, then we have an afterparty. We focus on the fun and joy of our community and we celebrate ourselves.
“Every place we go, we unpack the history as to where we are now and how we can orient it to help us become more balanced individuals,” Brister said.
With South Los Angeles still branded as a food desert, the club recently ran to Hank’s Mini Mart, a family-owned business located in the Hyde Park area of South Los Angeles that has existed for 20 years.
“We invited the California Black Council for Food Policy to join us,” Garcia said. “The council is currently working to establish a full scale market at Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. The Ralphs market that was formerly there has been closed for two years, forcing local residents to drive out of their neighborhoods to purchase groceries, but developers are pushing to place a high rise there rather than a market.”
Wheelchair-bound Andrew Johnson looks forward to participating in the run every Saturday.
“After I got involved with the run club, I was surprised and excited to find out that it was more than a run club,” said Johnson, who is appreciative of the historic background the club supplies and added that the club is kid friendly. Johnson brings along his 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter to the runs.
“They love it,” he added. “After we finish one run, my son immediately asks me when we are going on the next run. And I push my daughter during the runs in her little pink car.”
Xun Contreras, a 28-year-old veterinary technician, said, “I feel lots of things when I run. You become very aware of parts of your body and you become acutely aware of your surroundings. During our runs, I feel a sense of peace.”
Brister said the benefits of running are many.
“Once you start to run and the runner’s high kicks in and you feel like you can do anything,” she said. “Your mind is transformed when you’re running. If you are feeling a lot of stress and you are in a panic or manic state, running slows down the thought process. You are able to think more clearly about your problems because you begin to experience a physical feeling of lightness.”
The South Central Run Club can be contacted on Instagram at southcentral.run.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.