Meet Rafael Ortiz: National Co-Captain of Black Men Run.
Rafael is part of the Hylands Community Builders team for the 2020 Boston Marathon.
Rafael Ortiz knows the powerful potential of running. He knows first hand how getting out on the road can improve your physical health and state of mind. Many of us run just for that self-improvement. Rafael sees the potential for spreading that positive impact beyond his own life, to the lives of other Black men across the United States. To Rafael, running is about promoting health and wellness in his community; it's about presenting a positive image of Black men, and about ensuring that young Black people see a positive example of a healthy lifestyle to aspire to.
Rafael is the National Co-Captain of Black Men Run and a member of the inspirational team of Community Builders brought together by Hylands for the Boston Marathon 2020. We were delighted to have the opportunity to get in touch in the lead up to the Boston virtual race window of September 5-14.
The Lightest Tread (TLT): Tell us who you are, where you’re from and a little bit about yourself.
Rafael Ortiz (RO): I’m Rafael Ortiz, National Co-Captain and Director of Marketing for Black Men Run, and Phoenix chapter Captain. I’m originally from Puerto Rico, a US Air Force veteran, married for 27 years, and a father to a 25 year old son and 24 year old daughter.
TLT: Why do you run?
RO: I run to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. For me, running is therapeutic because it allows me to think about life and process things better. There is something special about miles spent alone on the road.
Our motto is “No Man Left Behind” and we aim to live out the values of creating Brotherhood, Unity, and Health in our communities.
TLT: Tell us a bit about Black Men Run and what it’s all about.
RO: Black Men Run is a National organization with a mission to promote health and wellness among African American men and uses running to create “A Healthy Brotherhood.” Our goal is to reduce the alarming health conditions that disproportionately affect Black men, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. We also help to diversify running and provide positive images of Black men in the community. BMR was established in 2013 Atlanta, GA and now has 52 chapters nationwide and over 10,000 members.
TLT: Running, for many people, is a particularly individual and personal pursuit. Tell us why you love to run as part of a community group.
RO: I love the community aspect of running because it provides camaraderie, accountability and builds great friendships. I belong to three different groups and its great having supportive teammates who inspire and help you on your journey.
TLT: What is it about running in particular that makes it an effective tool for community awareness/solidarity/building?
RO: When it comes to race events, everything about them builds solidarity and community. The pacers. The cheering squads. The fueling stations. Everyone involved has a common goal; to help each runner finish the race. It doesn’t matter what age, race, gender, religion, and ethnicity. We all stand in unity to get runners across the finish line. That’s what building community is all about.
TLT: It seems that BMR is about supporting each other as black men, as much as it is about supporting each other as runners. Is this accurate?
RO: We often say that Black Men Run is not a running club, but a “social network of influence” that happens to use running to build up men. Our motto is “No Man Left Behind” and we aim to live out the values of creating Brotherhood, Unity, and Health in our communities.
TLT: I think some people might not fully understand why representation in a sport (and the industry that surrounds that sport) is so important. Can you help explain it?
RO: All of us have probably benefited from representation in one way or fashion. As a child, I wanted to be a baseball player because of Roberto Clemente. My sisters wanted to be teachers because my mother was an educator. We’re all influenced by what we see around us. American children’s rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It is critical to have role models and good representation in all facets of life (sport, entertainment, medicine, technology), so we can see ourselves achieving the same thing. To that end, Black Men Run provides positive images of Black men getting healthy together and building communities one run at a time.
TLT: In light of all that’s happened in the US this year, I would guess that Black Men Run has played a particularly important role for its community members?
RO: The mental health and wellness of our members has been of utmost importance during this time. Not only are we dealing with COVID disproportionately affecting our communities, but the tragic deaths of Aumaud Arbery and George Floyd affected us (and the world) greatly. As a result, we’ve been hosting weekly Zoom forums for our members to connect with mental health professionals and discuss and process things. From a running standpoint, Black Men Run and Latinos Run partnered in June and co-hosted a virtual “Run for Justice 5K” to stand in solidarity against injustice and police brutality. With only 5 days of planning and marketing, we ended up with over 6000 runners from the US, Canada, Central America, UK, China that joined us in unity.
TLT: How can people get involved in or support Black Men Run?
TLT: Do you have any BMR chapters in Canada?
RO: Not yet, but there have been a few inquiries about starting a chapter in Toronto. All it takes is for someone to take the role of Captain and have at least 5-7 runners
TLT: Are you planning on running the virtual Boston Marathon? And if so, how will you motivate yourself to do it without the race day adrenaline?
RO: I am running the virtual Boston Marathon. A few guys from Black Men Run Phoenix will take turns pacing me. My wife has also agreed to ride her bike as I run.
Rafael wears SOLE performance Medium with Met Pad footbeds in his running shoes.