Myles Collins is a soon-to-be graduate of Archer High School in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He's an accomplished distance runner and a cross country state champion -- who ran the fastest 1,600m in February history this year -- and will attend Georgia Tech University in the fall. Following the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery in February, Myles penned a personal essay reflecting on what it means to be a young African-American runner in today's world, and what prejudices he may enconter as a runner.
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By Myles Collins - Archer (GA) High School
The sound of the gun goes off, but this time it's not a race gun. For many years, the sound of the starting gun has brought much joy and excitement, and a feeling that I can race against my competitors in a safe environment.
But for many other African Americans, the sound of a gun doesn't do the same. They don't have the same rush of excitement in their body, but rather a wave of paralyzing fear. Incidents like the one with Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed tragically in February while on a routine run on a rural road in Georgia, have a way of bringing citizens like myself back to reality.
Ahmaud was a young African-American male from Georgia with a future.
I also live in Georgia, and I am a young African-American runner with a future.
Fortunately, I have been lucky. I live in a multicultural community where I haven't faced racial prejudice to the degree of Ahmaud Arbery. It's actually been the opposite, as my community is supportive and thoughtful. They congratulate me and wish me the best whenever I see them in different settings such as at school, the store, and Tribble Mill Park (the park where I train). I often encounter various people without incident.
However, I am not unaware. I am still cautious of my surroundings when I'm running or just being an ordinary citizen. I do recognize that there is still a very small group of people that don't see me as a young black man training, as a runner who is exercising, but possibly as a person that just committed a crime. This has helped me understand why, when my family and I go on vacations to different areas in the country, why my mom wants to go on my runs with me. It's because of incidents like Ahmaud Arbery.
She does not want to lose a child over senseless violence.
Years ago, I remember when my family went to an AAU basketball tournament with my brother in Augusta, Georgia. I told my parents that I was going to go on a long run and that I would only take about 50 minutes. That day I was scheduled to run eight miles and I went over the time I told my parents I would be back to the hotel.
I remember my mom calling me multiple times to see if I was okay. I wasn't back in time and her immediate response was worry. At the time, I personally did not think it was bigger than that, but reflecting now, I know it was a response that came with knowledge: She had a feeling where she couldn't protect me. She feared she couldn't help me if something went wrong.
This is something that I think all parents deal with, but especially so African American parents.
Lastly, I can only pray that we get to know people who are of different races, cultures, ethnicity, and religions before judging them based on stereotypes. Instead, get to know someone for the content of their character. I believe that if we all work together, we can truly make the world a better place.
My heart goes out to the Arbery family!