* Saxon Brown -- Photo provided
By Steven Brown
As we navigate training in an environment where we do not have access to tracks because of COVID-19, I wanted to share my thoughts with you on some of the additional challenges that some athletes may be facing as we try to find training alternatives -- like running in the neighborhoods. I train Saxon Brown, Class of 2022, S.C. No. 3 800m.
I grew up in a public housing project in the late 70s and early 80s. No one had money. I would venture to say that the average household income was under $25K. I would estimate that the average household size was four-plus.
Forty years later I live in a suburban subdivision in a home (similar to all of my neighbors) that is greater than 3,000 square feet.
Forty years ago, in the housing projects, I could leave my home at 10 a.m. and tell my mom, "I am going outside." I would play all day- freeze tag, hot peas and butter, red light green light, around the world, two-hand touch football, and more (most of them I can't spell.) These games would often require me to migrate from one micro-neighborhood to the next. I'd move from "Paradise" to "the new projects" to "Junkie Paradise" to "the flagpole" to "Mill St." to "Coffey Park." As long as I was home by the time the street lights came on, I had no trouble with my mother. There were no cell phone check-ins or tracking apps. Moms knew that I'd be coming home.
View: Saxon Brown clocks 1:57.95 for 3rd FR 800m (interview)
There were "block moms." They looked out for the kids. If I were acting a fool, I knew that those block Moms would get word back to my mom. I didn't want those problems!!
Sure, we had to navigate danger. I distinctly remember having to carefully run through the minefield of broken malt liquor bottles that littered the very limited grass we had available to us just to get to "home base" during freeze tag. I remember one day I got caught slipping. I was nine.
* Steven Brown. Photo provided
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It was late morning on one summer day. I was with my sister, Lisa. She and I were racing to be first in line to receive our government-issued free lunch. I hurdled a bench in Coffey Park and landed on a jagged Olde English 800 bottle. The bottle cut through my twice handed down jeans and into my skin in two places that match the two peaks of the sharp glass. I received 27 stitches in my right leg. I still have two scars today. That was a bad day. I still got to come home and let my mom love the pain away.
Forty years later in my subdivision with homes that sell for over $400K in many cases, I have to worry if my son will make it back safely when he is gone for 28 minutes while he goes for a 4-mile conditioning run through the neighborhood. I'm older now and I can't run with him. The neighborhood is hilly and I can't get up the hills quickly enough to keep up with him. In truth, in my best day during my prime, I wouldn't be able to keep up with him for a 4-mile run :)
Prior to the Ahmaud Arbery video coming to public attention, I would simply send him out to do his run. Today, I go out with him. I cut across the neighborhood through the backsides of driveways so that I can always have eyes on him. There is one area where I can't see him for about 30 seconds. These days, my heart pounds for every beat during those 30 seconds until I see him make the turn.
I am not attempting to convince anyone that things were perfect for me growing up in the projects. I am not trying to convince you that I think being broke was better. I would like you to see that we should have made more progress in America and EVERYONE should be able to agree that one Ahmaud Arbery is too many. While we do not have access to a track or a gym during this global pandemic, I would love to be able to send Hawk out for his training run and rest easy knowing that he will come back safely - just as my mom did for each of her six kids 40 years ago.