Hundreds turnbout for inaugural Run Richmond 16.19

Published: Sep. 17, 2022 at 3:09 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Hundreds of Richmonders and dozens across the country came together at Kanawha Plaza bright and early Saturday morning to participate in the Inaugural Run Richmond 16.19 race.

The event is a collaboration between the Djimon Honsou Foundation, RVA Sports Backers and Black History Museum & Cultural Center (BHMVA), among several other organizations. The Hollywood actor’s foundation says the vision for the race is to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices African Americans have made to the nation by running a symbolic 16.19 kilometers and 6.19 miles.

“It would seem clear sort of like a calculated move that this country has deprived afro-descendants of their culture in their history in a way, and since I’ve been in this country, I’ve felt a tremendous void connecting with my people,” Honsou said. “As a result of going back to Africa, looking at the continent, and so many gates of no return, it leads me to come up with this concept of bringing our people together for a race. Over the years, it developed into this. ”

The pre-race event began before 7 a.m. at Kanawha Plaza, where a cultural liberation ceremony connected Virginia’s ties to the transatlantic slave trade Africans and celebrated the achievement of African Americans despite the nation’s history of slavery.

The first group of runners for the 16.19 Kilometer race took off just after 7:15 a.m., with Djimon Honsou joining runners at the start line before dipping out of the longer course to run the entire length of the 6.19-mile race with the second wave of runners at 8 a.m.

The Djimon Hounsou foundation says other events happened in Liverpool, England and the Benin Region off the West Coast of Africa, where Djimon Honsou is from. The Hollywood actor says he specifically chose Richmond to be the site of the first Run Richmond 16.19 because of the historical significance the slave trade had in America.

“Ultimately, it’s about bringing people together for healing, for unity and diversity, and hopefully, the struggles that our ancestors went through, and let’s not forget the tremendous achievement in this country of Afro-Descendants.”

Runners like Harve Aniglo traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to participate.

“This was the first time I participated in a run. I trained for it, and it was really fun,” Aniglo said.

Aniglo says he was born in the African nation of Togo, which borders Benin, where Honsou is from. He says he’s been a fan of Honsou since he was young. He saw this race as an opportunity not only to meet his hero but to connect with the African history Richmond is steeped in.

“It was very breathtaking both physically and metaphorically,” Aniglo said. “I lost a lot of breath, but at the same time, I got to experience the amazing views of Richmond, Virginia, and understand the history behind them.”

Throughout the shorter and longer distances, participants ran past several historical markers and monuments, like the Emancipation and Freedom monument on Brown’s Island, Rocket’s Landing and Ancarrow’s Landing, where Africans first set foot on American soil after being shipped upstream to Richmond.

“Run Richmond 16.19 is a journey through 400 years of black history, and so we are excited that people actually stopped and took the time to read the markers and learn the history,” said BHMVA communications director Andrea Wright.

Perhaps one of the most significant markers along the course was the Richmond Slavery Reconciliation Statue on 15th Street downtown, which tells the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Three identical statues can be found in Liverpool and Benin, where similar 16.19 events were being held Saturday.

“I was forced to stop many times along the course to look at the scenery and the grounds on which my ancestors walked centuries ago,” Honsou said.

“I never knew how historic Richmond is, and it took me to places I’ve never been,” runners like Alex Vega said. “This race is something that is definitely needed in Richmond.”

The race ended and began with a final downhill push down the main street on Kanwah Plaza in Richmond, where runners were given medals representing the first 16.19 run. As Hounsou crossed the finish line, organizers raised the finish line tape once more for him to run through.

Despite the sweat pouring from his body Honsou said he could persevere through the course of rolling hills by reminding himself of the true purpose of the race.

“This awareness that our ancestors what they have endured, the struggles they had to overcome and the many achievements they have made and the contribution they have made to this country, that was my stimulation to get to the finish line,” Honsou said.

Many other runners say they felt a similar emotional experience coming down the final stretches of the race.

“It made me open my eyes a lot more and appreciate Richmond for what it is,” Vega said.

“I draw the strength from my ancestors and my own spirit,” Aniglo said.

“I walk a little, but not this distance on a regular basis, but when I felt myself getting tired, I said my ancestors did so much more, and to honor them, I pushed on,” Wright said. “That was the motivation; to say this was for our ancestors, this was for our history, and this is also for our future to demonstrate to those behind us that this was for our ancestors and we can do so much more.”

RVA Sportsbackers, the Black History Museum, and the Honsou Foundation are already planning for next year’s event to be even more prominent in scale with the hope of adding an even longer 16.19-mile run as the race grows in popularity.

“It was energizing! I loved every minute of it!” “It just feels like a community, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” Adam Crigger said. “I’ll be back! I love this race, and I’ll be thinking about some of the things I learned today when I run through Richmond again.” Crigger said.

“This country would not exist, and certainly, this county would not be what it is today if not because of African Americans,” Honsou said.