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Black Girls Run! takes off in South Florida

Keshia Harvey had tried running on her own, but she really got the bug last year, after she kept seeing photos on Facebook of an old high school friend in North Carolina participating in 5Ks and other races.

All the women in the photos wore purple-and-black T-shirts that read, "Black Girls Run!"

Now, Harvey leads a Black Girls Run! group at Lauderhill Sports Complex, one of about 15 such weekly gatherings across South Florida. While some of the women are competitive, most are interested in just getting into better shape.

"We just want to be consistent, keep moving and support each other," says Harvey, whose group includes several walkers and novice runners.

Two Atlanta friends started Black Girls Run! in 2009, quoting a Centers for Disease Control report that 80 percent of African-American women are overweight. The friends said they wanted to combat what some people have documented as a trend: that minorities are underrepresented in races such as 5Ks and half-marathons, and black women specifically are reluctant to even take a jog around the block. In a Running USA survey of almost 12,000 respondents, only 1.6 percent identified themselves as African-American.

But that's changing. Black Girls Run! has chapters in about 100 cities, with almost 90,000 Facebook "likes." (The local BGR group on Facebook has nearly 2,100 members.) South Florida BGR shirts, with the subtitle "Preserve the Sexy," are becoming more prominent at South Florida races, ranging from the 5K Turkey Trot in Tamarac on Thanksgiving to the Live Ultimate Half-Marathon in Miami Beach on Dec. 15.

Harvey says seeing those T-shirts inspired her when she ran her first 10K race at a BGR convention in Atlanta within a week of joining the group.

"There were 8,000 women there of all sizes and shapes from all over the United States," Harvey recalls.

Every Thursday night in Lauderhill, the women stretch, walk a straightaway to warm up, and then hit a track that surrounds the soccer field, inline skating rink and baseball/cricket field. They go at their own pace, and there are no clocks, just encouragement.

Jackie Hough has been with the group for 12 weeks, and has improved her walking, she says.

"The next goal is to run," she says.

To find a nearby group, search for "Black Girls Run! SouthFlorida" on Facebook.

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