Alison Mariella Désir is an endurance athlete, mental health advocate, and author of Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport That Wasn’t Built for Us. In her book and passionate keynotes, she tackles the issues of race and mental health through the lens of long-distance running. Named one of the “45 Most Adventurous Women of the Past 45 Years” by Men’s Journal, Désir is a straightforward communicator with a passion for movement, mental health, and racial equity. Speaking to non-profits, schools, corporations, and running groups across the country, she shows audiences that a truly inclusive society allows everyone to experience the life-changing power of movement.
Alison Mariella Désir got her start in long-distance running after seeing a Black friend train for and complete a marathon. After finishing her first marathon, Désir realized that she had discovered an effective way to manage her depression. The interconnectedness of race, mental health, and sports quickly became Désir’s passion, and she has dedicated her life to exploring these intersections through her work. When in 2021 gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of competitions to focus on their mental health, it was clear that Alison’s expertise was needed more than ever.
Alison Mariella Désir is the co-founder and former chair of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition, a non-profit that works to hold the running industry accountable to equitable employment, leadership, and ownership positions and to improve inclusion, visibility, and access for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. She is also the founder of Harlem Run, a New York City–based running movement and Run 4 All Women, an organization that raises funds for social justice–focused non-profits.
A graduate of Columbia University with her bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, including a Master of Education in counseling psychology, Désir has been published in Outside magazine and contributed the foreword for Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas. She is also the host and producer of the award-winning show PBS Out & Back as well as the host of the companion podcast.
“The event was fantastic! Alison brought lots of energy and individually spoke to all guests afterwards as well. She was very passionate, and it showed.” —University of Wisconsin, Madison
“Throughout the day I’ve connected with many guests from last night, and they keep saying how inspirational you are…. Your speech was amazing and reminded us all how we are connected with each other and can make a difference in the lives of others…. You are a freakin’ rainstorm of drops causing waves of ripples in our world!” —Girls on the Run Puget Sound
“Thank you so much for your speech, presence, and all-around awesomeness on Saturday night. I’ve gotten such wonderful compliments about you and your work, and it fills me with joy each time. Yesterday, I was talking to one of our board member’s husbands, who is an older, white male. You really left him thinking deeply about where he’s dropped the ball his whole life and how he can do better. He said he was so starstruck by you and is really re-evaluating how he shows up and how he supports/gets out of the way/lifts up others. You had a lot of fans and followers in the room, and I’m sure you have even more now! I always appreciate getting to be in the same space as you.” —Girls on the Run Snohomish
“Alison is a fantastic speaker. Her ability to educate, motivate and inspire is exceptional. She has the gift of storytelling, giving us deep historical context as we grapple with the challenges of the past in our quest to understand the current racial inequities in our communities. We continue to be grateful for the impact she has had on many individuals in our firm.” —Rachael Gibson, Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer, Crowe LLP
Running While Black
This lecture delves into the story of how running saved Alison Mariella Désir’s life but also explores why the seemingly simple, human act of long-distance running for exercise and health has never been truly open to Black people. Weaving in historical context—from the first recreational running boom to the horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery—with her own story of growth in the sport, Désir argues that, as a litmus test for an inclusive society, the fitness industry has the opportunity to lead the charge and fulfill its promise of empowerment for everyone.
Movement and Mental Health
Research shows that there is a powerful connection between movement and positive health outcomes. For Alison Mariella Désir, running saved her life, connected her to community, and helped her find her purpose. Over the past 10 years, Désir has founded and led running movements and become an outdoor adventurer, all in the name of improving her own mental health and that of BIPOC communities nationally. This lecture inspires listeners to get moving and find meaning and well-being through movement.
Building Community: From a Moment to a Movement
In 2017, Alison Mariella Désir ran from Harlem to Washington, DC and raised over $100,000 for Planned Parenthood. In this lecture, Désir talks about how she harnessed the power of community to achieve this and how running supports her social activism.