Harlem World Magazine originally reported on Alison Desir’s Harlem Run back in June 2015 in an article titled Harlem Wellness Challenge: We Run Harlem by CC Minton.
Today Running Competitor reports that as she ran through the cold, inky darkness that makes up a January evening in the Mid-Atlantic, Alison Desir had one thought on her mind: making it to Washington, D.C., in time for the women’s march.Along with three other women, Desir was leading the 240-mile run from Harlem, N.Y., to the nation’s capital in an effort to raise money for Planned Parenthood—worried the incoming administration would pull funding for the organization.
Desir was tired. But the slight 32-year-old was also energized. Media attention was spreading the news about Desir’s efforts, and throughout the three-day journey, supporters stepped up to donate money, food, and run alongside her Run4AllWomen team. By the time they reached the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Desir’s team had raised over $100,000, far more than the original goal of $44,000.
When she had a chance to catch her breath and reflect on the snowball she had set in motion, Desir knew there had to be a next step. The only question was, what?
“Everyone kept asking, ‘what’s next?’” Desir says. “We had all this excitement and I realized our work had just begun.”
The solution, Desir determined, was to take all that energy and harness it for continued momentum. In April, she took step two in that plan and held a Run4AllWomen Summit in New York. Attending the summit were 23 new, handpicked ambassadors ready for action.
From the summit it was decided that the brand ambassadors, who hail from all over the country, will organize their own, local runs to regional Planned Parenthood offices during the second weekend of August. The idea, says Desir, is that running provides a powerful tool for grassroots activism. “There’s empowerment through fitness,” she says. “And we want to elevate the conversation on women’s rights.”
Desir designed the program around four guiding principles:
- We engage in grassroots activism in our daily lives
- We seek to empower others through fitness
- We foster alignment within our communities around a common goal
- We resist the status quo and work tirelessly to advance the conversation around women’s issues.
At the summit, all 23 ambassadors learned how to use running for activism, received specific logistics and planning tools, and fundraising advice. “It’s a daunting task,” Walsh admits, “but that’s part of what appealed to me, especially at a grassroots level.”
Desir says that with this second, bigger effort, she is launching a more intentional movement. “We trained the ambassadors on how and why to tailor the runs to their communities,” she says. “We are united in the common cause to allow access to safe, affordable healthcare.”
Walsh says that the outreach and fundraising takes her out of her comfort zone, and she likes that. “The beauty of it is that we aren’t soliciting corporate sponsorships but touching our communities and forming relationships,” she says. “It’s kind of like a flash mob for running.”
Each ambassador is responsible for designing her own plan and then submitting it to Desir for feedback before launching into action in August. “In many ways, this effort brings us back to what running is all about,” Walsh says. “There’s no charge, no shirt, no bling to participate. It’s just connecting with other runners.”
For her part, Desir never could have imagined that what started as a quiet effort to make a difference in January would turn into such a widespread movement in August. She admits that it has taken over her life. “I had no idea this would happen,” she says. “I’m just happy and privileged to have the resources to use for something like this.”