Zakia Haywood ’97
When media company Scary Mommy first approached Zakia (Feracho) Haywood ’97 and friends to produce a video about their running-mom group, the idea was to film something humorous about mothers and their love/hate relationship with exercise.
What they discovered wasn’t funny. It was heartwarming.
Featuring the group We Run Brownsville, which Haywood helped to start, the video shows a different perspective on community organizing and a positive, powerful change to the common narrative about their neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“[Scary Mommy] wanted to do something more,” says Haywood, who helped develop We Run Brownsville two years ago as a positive way to address social problems facing residents in this community. Many Brownsville residents, predominantly people of color, struggle with obesity, high unemployment, poverty, and single parenting. “They listened to some of the personal stories, including the negative circumstances and challenges facing these women. It was emotional. Health in all forms is not funny business at all; we empower each other and, most of all, have fun together when we run.”
The day of the taping, Haywood adds, “We all felt like celebrities. They filmed us doing what we love to do. I’m notorious for wearing colorful compression socks and signature sunglasses, and I give high fives and hugs all the time,” she says. “They were able to capture the true essence of our group.”
In a way, We Run Brownsville perfectly suits Haywood, who has been lacing up her running shoes since she can remember.
“My mom would say I went from crawling to running,” says Haywood, who participated in Colgate’s Office of Undergraduate Studies Summer Institute and became a double major in sociology and anthropology.
Having played sports throughout elementary and middle school, she competed in track and field in high school and spent four years on Colgate’s team as well.
She would later run from the world of finance.
After interning at Black Enterprise magazine, a publication that promotes entrepreneurship and wealth creation in the African-American community, Haywood was certain her career path was firmly set in investment banking and personal finance. She worked there for three years and then joined the Financial Relations Board, where she also spent three years — until the recession hit.
“Everyone started to get laid off,” Haywood says. “It happened to the best of us.”
So, it was back to her running roots. As Haywood looked for jobs, she volunteered with a social services organization in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, aptly called Turning Point.
“I volunteered for about a year, part time on and off, on projects related to community organizing, photography, and special-event planning,” Haywood says. Finally, she landed a full-time job — at New York Road Runners (NYRR), 11 years ago.
As the director of community services at NYRR, Haywood, who also has a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on public policy from the College of New Rochelle, works to inspire people through running and thinking about healthy lifestyle choices.
She oversees two community fitness programs spanning New York’s five boroughs, involving more than 20,000 participants each week. The NYRR Open Run, held in 13 local parks, and a group called Striders, targeting older adults in more than 40 neighborhood senior centers, get people of all ages and abilities moving year-round. These programs meld her passion and purpose to help people to do better for themselves, their families, and their community.
“What I learned at Colgate from my political science, sociology, and anthropology classes has helped,“ Haywood says, “with understanding cultures, mobilizing people, influencing mind-sets and behaviors, and thinking about how to make positive, sustainable changes.”
Watch the video here.
— Dan DeVries