The site of the former Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, the notorious “Devil’s Half Acre,” took Raina Fields’ breath away in a way that the hills of the Run Richmond course had not.
“I just kind of, like, clutched my chest,” Fields recalled after running 6.19 miles that bypassed markers of historical Black achievement and challenge. “It was very powerful.”
As she ran through the adjacent tunnel beneath Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom, “I was thinking of the darkness of the slave ship and what my ancestors must have experienced. There’s kind of a sanctity down there,” she said. “It reminded me that this is not just a race.”
The inaugural Run Richmond 16.19 featured two courses through the city of symbolic distances — 16.19 kilometers and 6.19 miles. The first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619.
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Run Richmond was sponsored by the Djimon Hounsou Foundation, founded by the actor and humanitarian from the West African Republic of Benin. Its stated aim was to honor the achievements and sacrifices of African Americans while celebrating unity through diversity.
Fields wasn’t the only runner among the participants who drew inspiration from spiritual sources.
“Starting the race with libations and paying homage to our ancestors definitely motivated me around the race. That’s not something you typically see,” Toria Edmonds-Howell said as she recovered from her 6.19-mile run in Kanawha Plaza, where the African drums and dance of the Elegba Folklore Society accentuated the Pan-African vibe.
Emeana McDonald, who ran on behalf of the College of Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University, said of the 6.19-mile course: “I felt like I had my ancestors, and especially God, pushing me and helping me to finish strong.”
When asked how he found the strength to get through his 16.19-kilometer run, Hounsou said: “Coming into this awareness of our ancestors, what they have endured, the struggles they have overcome, the many achievements they have made, the contributions they have made to this country. That is my stimulation to the finish.”
The course routes, depending on the run, included the Canal Walk, the Virginia Capital Trail and the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and went past such landmarks as the Emancipation and Freedom Monument and the Reconciliation Statue commemorating the transatlantic triangle slave trade sites of Richmond; Liverpool, England; and Benin.
One site, however, made the biggest impression on runners interviewed Saturday.
“The one that stood out the most to me was the slave jail,” McDonald said. “It kind of reminded me of how history is repeating itself through the correctional system we have now.”
For history teacher Alyssa Wilkinson, Run Richmond was an ideal opportunity to get in a training run for her upcoming half-marathon while absorbing “the history of Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy and a heavy participant in the slave trade, and dealing with what that looks like in 2022.”
More than 600 people registered for Saturday’s run, said Megan Schultz, CEO of Sports Backers, which partnered with the Djimon Hounsou Foundation in the run along with the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Visit Richmond VA, BLK RVA and the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
“I think this has really built a great foundation for future years,” Schultz said.
Hounsou said Run Richmond 16.19 will return next year. He hopes to sponsor races in the near future in Liverpool and in Africa. “And the cycle will be completed.”