Bang On! Fitness and fellowship at MLK Day 5K Drum Run


This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, don’t sleep in. Lace up your running shoes and join more than 2,000 Atlantans at the MLK Day 5K Drum Run in Piedmont Park. The walk/run, which starts and finishes near Park Tavern across 10th Street from Grady High School, has a motivating vibe from more than 200 drummers and is a Peachtree Road Race qualifier. Music starts at 8 a.m. with the 5K line-up at 8:45 a.m. and a roaring post-race party.

“It’s about inspiring fitness and fellowship. People want to do something positive to celebrate this holiday,” said race co-founder Chip Owens. “With the day off from work and school, this is a perfect opportunity to bring the community together and great jump start to the New Year.”

The idea sprang from Owens’ Peachtree Road Boot Camp, which always drew its largest crowd on MLK Day. Owens was surprised to learn there was no other race that day.

“I grew up in Atlanta and ran my first Peachtree Road Race in 1977. There’s a race for everything – Fourth of July, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day – we can go on and on. But there was no MLK race,” Owens reflected.

So, Owens and Herman Mannings III co-founded the race in 2012 with 800 participants and 20 drummers at the finish line. This year, the 200-plus student drumline promise to propel runners forward.

The idea for including drums came to Owens when he saw Grady High School student drummers, led by their band director Brian Cook, perform on the Atlanta BeltLine. Cook and his Grady student drummers have participated in the race since the beginning.

The drums were fitting “because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a drum major for justice and peace,” Mannings III said. Once word spread that the race provided a donation to band booster clubs – the race soon boasted drummers from Atlanta Public Schools, Gwinnett, and DeKalb.

“Grady expects to have 40 kids come out this year. I want the community to know that we are here to support the neighborhood. The kids love it because they can mingle and play with other drumlines,” Cook said.   He’ll use the race funds to buy more equipment, like drumheads that cost $50 a piece.

Drummers aren’t the only ones with whom Owens and Mannings III share race proceeds. Each approved “team”, such as a school, church or community organization, receives $5 per registrant linked to their team.

“In other words, if 100 people register under Team X, we will send a check for $500 to Team X’s organization,” Owens explained. “Turner bought 100 registrations in one phone call. And $500 went to Back on My Feet,” a nonprofit that helps homeless Atlantans through running and support services.

Rather than pay thousands of dollars for an email list to promote the MLK Day 5K Drum Run, Owens generates interest through this innovative fundraising model. Since 2012, the race has redistributed $25,000 to “teams” and $20,000 to school drum boosters clubs.

And swag for the runners/walkers include long-sleeved shirts, free professional photography, free ice skating at Park Tavern’s Southwest Rink and other goodies.

Mannings III, a Morehouse College graduate who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama with a family deeply involved in the civil rights movement, expanded the MLK Day 5K Drum Run to his hometown last year.

“I felt honored to bring the race to Birmingham’s historic Civil Rights District” Mannings III said. “It’s the first race of the year in Birmingham, bringing together diverse participants and providing resources to local school bands and community organizations.”

The race now has a good foothold in two southern cities.

“In the spirit of this holiday, we’re building a legacy within our beloved communities to inspire people through fitness and fellowship. Chip and I are a product of the dream Dr. King envisioned,” Mannings III said.

For more information, visit MLKDay5K.org.

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