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With a Focus on Increasing BIPOC Ownership, the Running Industry Diversity Coalition Launches ‘Run the Block’ Grant Program

When the Running Industry Diversity Coalition (RIDC) board of directors created its five-year strategic plan in 2021, one of the objectives was increasing ownership among Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs across the industry.

With a new program in place, the nonprofit organization is ready to accelerate that mission. On Tuesday, RIDC revealed “Run the Block,” a mentoring and grant initiative.

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“‘Run the Block’ is all about giving our BIPOC community the power to make a difference right where we live. Each one of us can be a leader in our neighborhood, making real changes and starting businesses,” RIDC executive director Kiera Smalls told FN. “‘Run the Block’ means we’re all moving forward together, building up our neighborhoods and showing what we can do when we take the lead.”

In its first year, RIDC will award an entrepreneur or a group of entrepreneurs up to $200,000 in grant dollars and marketing support for their business needs. To start, the initiative will center on retail ownership.

To launch the program, the RIDC will open applications in March, which is also when the nonprofit will reveal the “Run the Block” criteria and selection process. Smalls said it was important for RIDC to give people a few months to learn about “Run the Block,” have conversations about the initiative and prep materials for when applications open.

“We’re going to allow ourselves to receive different, innovative ideas,” Smalls said. “We’re going to let the innovative ideas come to us so we can create a pipeline for future Run the Block initiatives.”

RIDC executive director Kiera Smalls
RIDC executive director Kiera Smalls.Courtesy of Samantha Choy/RIDC

In terms of mentoring, Smalls — whose professional experience helping startups includes Philly Startup Leaders and the Johnson & Johnson Health Equity Innovation Challenge — explained the “Run the Block” grant recipient will be provided a “care team” for one year that includes a retail store owner or owners and a lawyer, as well as other Black and brown leaders.

“They get a year with us and we give them whatever they need in terms of mentorship, connections with [experts on] how to navigate conversations with banking, how to navigate leasing, how to navigate vendor relationships. We will be on the journey together,” Smalls said.

RIDC explained that the organization’s mission reflects the “recognition of the unique challenges faced by Black business owners” and is “a step toward addressing specific needs within the BIPOC community.”

Although the nonprofit is young, the RIDC has already worked to educate the industry about persistent challenges around diversity. For instance, the RIDC revealed three studies done in partnership with Bentley University in June 2023, including “Racial Diversity and the Business of Running: Mapping a Path to Equitable Employment, Leadership, and Ownership.”

The study found that 14 percent of the U.S. population is Black/African American, yet 11 percent of the running industry’s employees are Black/African American and just 1 percent hold senior management leadership positions. Also, it revealed that roughly 80 percent of senior executives leading DEI initiatives are white, while only 15 percent are Black/African American, and 70 percent of running organizations have DEI goals but 59 percent do not track progress.

Looking ahead, the RIDC stated its plan is to broaden it reach and to support more BIPOC groups.

Although the RIDC formally revealed the effort Tuesday, the organization soft announced “Run the Block” at The Running Event (TRE) in November 2023, specifically at the trade show’s industry awards dinner. The RIDC revealed a “Run the Block” landing page to people at the awards dinner, which TRE confirmed with FN included roughly 525 attendees. Smalls said the landing page had more than 400 hits.

RIDC, Kiera Smalls, Brooks, Dan Sheridan, The Running Event
RIDC executive director Kiera Smalls (L) and Brooks president and COO Dan Sheridan at The Running Event 2023. Courtesy of The Running Event

At the dinner, Smalls was joined on stage by Brooks president and COO Dan Sheridan, who announced an initial seed investment of $200,000 from the brand to support “Run the Block.”

“When Brooks first joined the RIDC, we were most excited about the opportunity for brands and retailers to come together to support necessary change in the running industry. We jumped at the chance to back RIDC’s ‘Run the Block’ pilot program because we saw it as a powerful way for Brooks and other industry leaders to help increase diversity in run,” Sheridan told FN. “Together with our partners and allies, we aim to provide Run the Block beneficiaries our expertise and experience to help them succeed and thrive.”

He continued, “We are certain of the positive impact true community investment programs like Run the Block will have on the running industry. I cannot overstate how important it is for leaders to exercise their power to make change.”

The RIDC confirmed it will share details on the others that have joined them on the “Run the Block” mission. However, Smalls did confirm RIDC received contributions from exercise tracking app Strava and Baltimore-based specialty run retailer Charm City Run, as well as from individual donors, which came in after the soft announcement.

What’s more, TRE executive director Christina Henderson confirmed with FN that the trade show will work to support “Run the Block.”

The RIDC is continuing to accept contributions for “Run the Block” that will go to both the grant recipients and to cover its administrative needs. Those interested in contributing can do so through the “Run the Block” landing page on the RIDC website.

By year’s end, Smalls said RIDC will have selected either an entrepreneur or a group of entrepreneurs for this initiative, and they will be connected with a “care team.” Internally, Smalls said the RIDC will have a pipeline of people who are interested in ownership by the end of the year, and RIDC stakeholders will consistently engage in conversation about the growth and evolution of the program.

“We don’t want to just impact this year, what someone can feel right now. We want positive impact for generations to come,” Smalls said.

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at peter.verry@footwearnews.com.

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