Melanie Murzeau is a mother of three girls, a Black woman, and a runner. After Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man was murdered in Georgia in February 2020, Murzeau did a run for the young man on his birthday. In May, when George Floyd was killed, this time by police, Murzeau was stunned. “I was so upset about everything that black lives simply did not matter in America. Something that is not only in America, but here in Canada in a more covert way,” says Murzeau, who channeled her disappointment in humanity into something constructive and positive. “I wanted to bring my energy into something I love doing, running, but I wanted something more: I wanted people to know the humanity in the running community.”
“I run early in the morning, and you never know what can happen if I could be targeted because I am seen as a threat,” Murzeau says. “It doesn’t have to be this way and I want BIPOC runners from all over to know this: we can be part of running, or any space, that we want to be.”
“I didn’t see a lot of myself in run groups or at races, I’d see the odd person here or there and we’d give a nod, but I never felt like running was something we do, until I saw my brother run marathons,” says Murzeau. Black runners would make the biggest impact in the elite field at international races like STWM and great marathoners like Eliud Kipchoge or sprinters like Andre De Grasse are black. But Murzeau says that when she has an idea of a runner, she would picture a woman with blonde hair. She didn’t see any representation of Black runners as she did at the Olympic Games. Somehow, if she could show more people like herself that running was for everyone, she knew she could bring more Black amateur athletes into the sport. The Black Runners of the GTA combines social justice with a health & wellness campaign.
While spurred on by a love of running, getting people to know about inclusion is the genesis of Black Runners of the GTA. A growing enterprise with national ambitions, Murzeau says Black Runners of the GTA is a long overdue idea. She is an Ambassador for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon fundraising for Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. She wants to be a positive representation to show the power of fundraising for a community through running.
“I want to create a space for everyone—completely inclusive, featuring Black runners and highlighting the running community. Even if it’s only, for now, online,” says Murzeau, who works in diversity inclusion and has been gathering stories of Black runners to share online. “I want BIPOC people to realize they can do this and be part of the community. I think one way we can do this is by letting more BIPOC individuals see more of ourselves, because representation matters.”
She has also created an online forum, hoping to connect more BIPOC beginner runners with accountability partners to continue running and to spark the joy of running.
Murzeau is running the 10K at STWM on October 17 as part of the hat trick (21k, 10k and 5k). She will also be dreaming of more events that can inclusively invite BIPOC amateur athletes into the running community. It shouldn’t take international tragedies like Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd to spur action; and yet, dealing with these conditions, Murzeau, through her running, for her community and her daughters, is trying to infuse hope.
Join her at Black Runners of the GTA, wherever, and whoever, you are.
Photographs by Heather Colasuonno.