In 2019, if the group had a dozen runners one morning, they considered it a big turnout.
But in 2020, as the pandemic spread and the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum across the country, more runners began to arrive each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m. Twenty people, 30, sometimes 40 or even 50.
“Everyone is genuine and serving the same purpose; it’s diversifying the community in a different way than Charlottesville has really seen,” Dowell said.
The diverse group — Black, white, Latinx, Asian-American, men, women, teenagers, college students, young parents with strollers, middle-aged former collegiate athletes, retirees — mingled in the parking lot, waiting for Dowell to announce their departure.
The first to depart are the walkers, who are called “Cruisers.” At two designated spots — both after steep hills — the faster runners wait and cheer for the slower-paced ones, until the entire group has gathered. Then, they resume.
Along the way, residents stand on apartment balconies, clapping and waving. One older Black woman greets the group every morning as she waits at the bus stop, offering fist-bumps and high fives. Sometimes, residents run out of their homes to join the group on their route.
At the conclusion of each run, the group often gathers in a circle and several people will speak. Most Friday runs are dedicated: One morning, they ran for a group member whose son had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Another Friday, the run was dedicated to a member whose aunt had died of cancer the day before. They have honored veterans, underdogs and safety for women through themed runs.