Roland T. Woodson Jr.’s profile picture on Facebook is a video of him running. He is a man on a mission — promoting health for African-American men and raising funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Woodson is one of the founding members of Black Men Run — a nonprofit organization that promotes health for African-American men through the fellowship and encouragement of regular group runs. Established in July 2013, Black Men Run now has chapters in 52 cities and 27 states, as well as in Europe and Africa.
Although he just started running three years ago, Woodson set the goal of completing his first full marathon as a St. Jude Hero during the 2016 St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend held this past December. Woodson had run half marathons before, but training for the full marathon was very demanding — especially for this busy father of three young boys. Running for St. Jude gives Woodson a new perspective.
“My continual motto is, ‘How dare I complain?’”
As his training runs became longer, Woodson would hit the streets for his mid-week run at 4 a.m. to complete eight to 10 miles before going to work as assistant principal of a Memphis elementary school. During those runs, “I would think about my kids and see their faces and see them running around being healthy. And then I see the flip side, as well. I see the St. Jude patients and their families. I see their struggle and frustration, but I also see the resilience of those families. And that motivates me.”
Since he began running, Woodson’s weight has dropped from 240 pounds to about 200. He credits the camaraderie and support of the group for the progress he has made. “Black Men Run is not only a platform for me to reach my goals in health and wellness, but it is also a catalyst for others.”
Woodson and other members of Black Men Run toured St. Jude a few years ago. “That changed my life forever,” said Woodson, captain of the Memphis chapter of Black Men Run. After the tour, he dedicated himself to raising funds and awareness every year as a St. Jude Hero in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. In addition, Black Men Run made St. Jude its national philanthropic partner this year. For the 2016 marathon, Woodson raised $2,820 for St. Jude, and his team raised $11,158 — and counting.
Incredible support along the marathon course kept him going for the 26.2 miles. And when he finished, Woodson said, “I felt accomplished, tired, and a joy that's difficult to explain.”