CAMDEN, NJ — Ahava Divine doesn’t just walk the walk. She runs it too.
On Sunday morning a dozen or so joined her for City Girl Ambition’s inaugural “I Breathe for You” 5K.
“One of the things I thought about when I saw the George Floyd [video] was...when they pass on, they're not really gone. And it is up to us to keep their legacies alive,” said Divine, 29, who organized the event with Lael Divine.
“When I heard the chants of ‘I can’t breathe,’ I thought about how I’d like to change the mindset of people and instead say, ‘I breathe for you.’ So that you are empowered and know the fight still continues,” she said, amping up participants at the starting line.
At roughly 8 a.m. runners and walkers began to gather in front of Woodrow Wilson High School. Officers from the Camden County Police Department (CCPD) were also on hand to help safely escort protestors down Federal Street to City Hall.
“We’re here to protest police brutality but also rights and equality for the residents of Camden. For one, I think we as citizens need to come together in order to participate in our political process more,” resident Manthu Tekhna, 45, told TAPinto Camden.
Tekhna, who was among the early arrivals, said he’s had “a mixed relationship” with Camden metro police. On the one hand, he said, he has good rapport with some officers on the force. On the other, he found a recently-debated police search in the waterfront south all too familiar.
“I’ve been stopped too but it never got to that point,” Tekhna said in reference to the two men being handcuffed as officers searched their vehicle with a K-9 unit. “There’s an underlying tension that exists in some of these instances that really shouldn't be there. And I think they need to look at how they recruit, and also how they train.”
Rachel Ming-Vines, a volunteer with City Girl Ambition, said she met Ahava through South Jersey Progressive Democrats.
“We kept in touch and I’m just glad to continue supporting causes like this,” said Ming Vines, 27, of Clementon. “I think people just need to keep showing up and using their voices.”
She was joined by fellow volunteer Lora Gordon of Oaklyn.
“The police are in charge of too many things...to have to deal with domestic abuse, mental health, crime and everything else... it’s too much for a police academy training to cover,” said 41-year-old Gordon. “I know it’s complicated. But for me, I mean I'm a middle-aged white woman. I don't get pulled over. It doesn't happen but I know profiling exists. And I'm here to try to make noise about it and help support black and brown communities.”
The 5K began at approximately 9 a.m. In addition to arm bands that identified how protestors planned to partake, face masks were required.
Leading the pack the whole way was Ahava, who passed an amber baton to each runner/walker as they crossed the finish line.
“I’m happy and excited. Really just grateful to everyone who came here today,” Ahava said at the end of the 5K, stopping to catch her breath.
“As I was running, I felt a lot of different emotions,” she continued. “As I was making my way over the bridge I thought about those who have been hurt due to police brutality, racism and our entire violent history.”
Once all had arrived at City Hall, waters were distributed and Ahava helped everyone stretch before leading an impromptu work-out session.
When asked about Camden city’s progress as far as policing, Ahava said there’s still more work to be done. She hopes the 5K, which she plans to grow next year, will be among the harbingers for change.
"Once we understand that what’s happening in places like Atlanta and Ferguson are struggles we’re facing here in Camden, that's when we can start uniting and rebuilding our communities," she said.
To donate to City Girl Ambition (through Vision Empower) click here.
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