For Uchenna Jones, a nurse in Madison, health is key. That’s especially apparent than in communities of color, who disproportionately face health issues, both mental and physical.
Jones saw a place where change could not only be made, but was sorely needed. As a Black woman, she knew how issues of health directly impacted her community, and others. And so the Madison Gospel 5K Foundation was born, and with it, health-centered event planning for people of color and allies alike that would last for years.
The organization is set to host their third annual Madison Gospel 5K Run/Walk tomorrow, Saturday, July 17, 2021. From 8:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Penn Park on 2101 Fisher Street, people and families alike can walk and run various distances at a host of events. This year’s theme, reminiscent of the organization’s goals at large, is “Stand Boldly. Walk Proudly. Run Swiftly.”
This event is one of many initiatives the organization has hosted and planned in its three year tenure, and not even close to the last. Their weekly walks, hosted Saturdays in a variety of Madison local spots and announced regularly on Facebook, hasn’t missed a single weekend since its inception — and that includes throughout the pandemic and classic Wisconsin inclement weather.
Last year, the second time the annual race was hosted, COVID-19 was ever-climbing and even more prominent than now. So, the hosts had to figure out how to make it happen without getting their participants sick. They followed CDC guidelines, had everyone mask up, spaced them all outside, and had “heats” so people wouldn’t be crowded or even at the same place for the whole time.
Jones said not one person from the event was exposed to or contracted COVID-19, so she calls it a success, and one that can be replicated. While they’re following CDC guidelines for tomorrow’s event, which don’t require masks for vaccinated people, they’re still recommending them for those who aren’t, and maintaining spacing of racers. The all-outdoors location for the event helps, too.
Right now, there are 264 people registered for the event. But Jones said many bring family, some people just show up, and altogether she’s expecting even up to a couple hundred more than that throughout the day tomorrow.
The goals of the foundation at large are to create healthier families through faith, fellowship and fitness, and they target groups of color, who Jones said have been broadly left out of education and programming on the subjects.
“Even though we have [health-related] resources, we make a lot of assumptions that people can get to those resources,” Jones said. “Like that people can actually read, you know? If I give someone a brochure, it’s not necessarily the case whether they understand what’s in the brochure.”
That can be due to educational barriers, language barriers or other causes — and often, those causes disproportionately impact people of color. The solution, Jones said, is meeting people where they are.
“In order for me to know how to help, I have to be where the people are. I have to walk with them, I have to go through the neighborhood,” Jones said.
And her organization is putting their money where their mouth is: they’re very literally going to where the people are. While they sometimes take detours, their weekend walks are primarily held on the South side, which has a large Black population.
“If you’re there coming together, we can have a conversation. We begin to understand what’s going on, and then we also begin to formulate ideas on how to solve problems,” she said.
Their weekend walks are free, too, which is key. Buying organic vegetables or paying for a gym membership is infinitely difficult if you don’t have the funds, and focusing on those more popularized initiatives can make disenfranchised people feel like good health is out of reach. Focusing on mental health is hard, too, since many people of color disproportionately lack access to healthcare or funding to pay for the help out-of-pocket.
But if you see a friendly group of people walking around for free on the weekends, right by your house? Jones said you’re much more inclined to join in, and that’s already a “great step” towards bettering health both mentally and physically — walking is exercise, going outside has been linked to better mental state, and the interaction with fellow walkers can provide much-needed socialization for those with tight or constant work schedules.
A devotion to bettering communities is key for Jones. She took her first nutrition class in college, and it made her realize how much she hadn’t been taught before. Now that she’s aware, and a nurse to boot, she’s making sure she gives back and helps better the community that raised her.
With the proceeds from the race on Saturday, the organization is looking to fund scholarships for students who want to work in the health sector and in communities. They’re also looking to implement health, wellness and nutrition coursework and learning opportunities with varying partners as the foundation grows.
And the growth of their events and the race over time proves that they get results from the work they do.
“When you put the work in, you get the results. And we have put the work, we continue to put the work in, and we are getting results,” Jones said. “Today, whole families signing up for a race, going outside their comfort zone? We haven’t maxxed out on it, but we are meeting the goal and just looking forward to what the future holds for us.”