Black Men Run Smart Phone Application Creators Speak with TechnologyExpresso
On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Dave Blackman of Technology Expresso interviewed Jason Russell, one of the founders of the organization Black Men Run, and Brian Roberson, the organization’s technology guru. Black Men Run is a global and social organization that uplifts the community by focusing on the community and promoting fitness and brotherhood.
Q: Jason, can you tell us how your organization got started?
Jason: We started in Atlanta at Grant Park in July of 2013. Some guys said, “We want to be more active,” and we saw running as that vehicle. 5 or 6 guys showed up at the first meet-up. After the second one, we began to gain more participants. Today, we are in about 47 cities, and we have running groups in London and Paris. If it were not for Social Media and technology, Black Men Run would not exist. We started to communicate via photos on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Someone saw the photos on Social Media, and the movement spread like wildfire. We are grateful for the men who come out and run with us and also for the Social Media platforms that we’ve used to grow Black Men Run globally.
Q: How many members are there in Black Men Run?
Jason: We don’t necessarily have a membership model, but we have men who come out and run with the organization. We have about 6,000 participants globally, and that number is growing everyday.
Q: Do you have to be a skilled runner to participate in Black Men Run?
Jason: When we started Black Men Run, we started it for anyone that wanted to come out. Participants range from marathon runners to men who only run to their mailboxes. One of our biggest sayings is to just get out there, run, and fellowship. Social Media motivates people. The running app allows you to share your run, and you get an opportunity to see how others in your own community are doing. We don’t turn anyone away, and everyone is welcome.
Q: How does someone get connected and involved in your organization?
Jason: First and foremost is our website: http://blkmenrun.com/. You can find us on Twitter: @BlackMenRunUSA, and Instagram: @BlackMenRun. If you’re on Facebook, you can search for any of the Black Men Run Chapters to be added to that particular group. We’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and effort trying to expand our Social Media footprint.
Q: Can you tell us about the application and how the idea of it became manifest?
Brian: The idea was sparked by CEO of Black Men Run, Jason. He came to me and said, “This needs an app.” He gave me a blank check and let me decide on what I wanted to do. I took my time. I wanted to connect with HBCU’s like we had done in the past, I wanted it to be a good visual, and I wanted you to see Black men in the app. Within the app, I made sure you could track your distance and time and measure the calories you’re burning and the current temperature. The app also includes a compass , and we have different radio functions and DJ mixes that you can stream through the app while you run.
Jason: I feel like this app is a game-changer because it is the first fitness/running app created by African-Americans. We conceived it, Bryan built it with his own hands, we tested it, and we put it out there. With our app, you get what is called BMR points. These points will let you purchase Black Men Run merchandise. It’s our award system for people who use the application and run with it. We’re trying to fill in the gaps that other running applications haven’t been able to do, and we want to ensure that this application is used throughout our community.
Q: How many different platforms is the application available on? Is it strictly a smart-phone app or can it be downloaded on the computer as well?
Jason: Currently it’s only on iPhone and available on all models 4s up. We’ve been getting requests for an Android version, and that is coming. Once the IOS version stabilizes, we will start developing an Android version. There’s going to be an extension on the web as far as the leader board goes, but currently it’s only on IOS and iPhone. The Android version will be out in early 2015.
Q: How can the app inspire people?
Jason: We’ve just recently developed a leader board, and the leader board shows you how you’re stacking up against all of the other runners that have the application. The top 3 people currently have over 100 miles that they’ve run over a two week period. If you need inspiration, look at the Black Men Run application.
Q: What do you hope will happen with this application, and how big do you think it can get?
Jason: It can get as big as our population will let it become. I feel like this app is killing two birds with one stone. This country doesn’t see African-Americans as distance runners. There was a statistic that said only 1% of African-Americans have run marathons. That statistic is changing, and it’s changing very quickly via organizations like Black Men Run. Also, Black people are not highly represented in the IT or development space. With Brian being our core developer, we killed the fallacy that African-Americans don’t build applications for our community. The biggest thing about this app is that we created this for our underrepresented population in the running field, and we also created this for our extremely underrepresented population in the mobile application / technology space. I hope it continues to grow, but we need forums like this one in order to get the word out.
Q: What message do you have, from a technology standpoint, for young people who are weary on where to go with their technical skills? What message do you have for them on their possibility to grow in the mobile application space?
Brian: They shouldn’t be intimidated. It will be an uphill battle, but with time and patience, anybody could do it. I do it day in and day out. I do it at my day job, and after I get off work, I’m working on the BMR app. With my 4+ years of being in he technology space, I’m not at the top, but I’m very close. I mentor and tutor young people in technology, and I’m helping some of them to build mobile applications right now. It’s going to take time, but you have to have patience.
Jason: I’m not a hardcore developer like Brian, but I understand enough to get things done. It’s not rocket science. You first have to have a passion for it. Brian has a passion for it. Brian won’t tell you this, but he his self-taught. He read books and watched YouTube videos. From his reading he was able to build a mobile running application. Don’t get discouraged. This is where the world is going. STEM is so important in our schools and neighborhoods, and African-Americans are being left behind. This is an area we cannot afford to be left behind, and I’m glad to see that more schools are putting it into their day-to-day curriculum. Hopefully, apps like the Black Men Run app will inspire people to say, “If Brian Roberson self-taught himself to do it, I can learn this.”
Q: As Black Men Run grows, have you reached out to any sponsors, or is that at the next level?
Jason: That’s at the next level. This is our investment into our community, and Brian’s time invested into building the application. To date, it has just been us. It’s great when you’re able to say, “I have this great idea that I’m passionate about.” Thankfully, we have the resources to start and finish our projects. We’re going to keep pushing forward how we’ve been pushing forward and see where this takes us.
Q: How do you think Black Men Run and the positive images of Black men that Black Men Run helps to display fits into activism? How do you think Black Men Run plays into the social activism stage?
Jason: There’s a lot going on in our country right now, and our runners are not runners anymore. They’ve become pillars in their own communities. You have now become, by virtue of you putting on this t-shirt and going out to run, an example for someone to look at. I think the purest and honest form of social activism is doing something that you’re passionate about. Everything else will fall into place. I tell my guys that the world is watching everything we do, so be a shining example in your community.
Q: Do you see Black Men Run as activism?
Jason: I think by us doing what we do everyday, that’s activism. I don’t necessarily think that you have to hold up a sign and be overt. There’s subtle things people can do to help their neighborhood and society. By you being a healthier person, you help to make your community healthier. I think that Black Men Run is the most dangerous organization in the country. The reason I say that is because we’re making our community healthier one man at a time. If you can motivate the guy who has high-blood pressure to eat better and run more, you’ve won. That is the type of activism that we’re concerned with.
Q: How can the community support you?
Jason: By going to our website and attending a run in your city. On our website we sell a variety of Black Men Run shirts, and we also have a Black Men Run medal rack for you to hang all of your marathon medals.
Brian: You cannot forget that they must download the app.
Q: Does your core group go around to different cities and have events or are the events managed by the individuals in the separate cities?
Jason: They are managed by what we call the chapter captains. Each city has their main go-to person. The beautiful thing about it is if I’m traveling on business or with family, I can find that chapter captain and figure out
when their next run is. You immediately and easily have a social group in a city you’re not familiar with. You can go to any city where Black Men Run chapters are and you automatically have a community.
This interview was transcribed and edited by Anisah Muhammad. Anisah Muhammad is a 17-year old professional writer based in the Montgomery, AL area. She regularly writes for the Final Call Newspaper (finalcall.com) and she has published some pieces of poetry. To read more of her pieces, visit the website original7.wordpress.com.
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