Chicago Tribune – July 23, 2018

By Christen A. Johnson

Jordyn Kerr, 22, holds her keys between her knuckles as she walks home.

Rachel Colonna, 22, mentions spending money on an Uber to go the distance of one train stop “just because it’s late, and it’s dangerous.”

Ali Barzyk, 21, rearranges her schedule just to fit in a mandatory workout “in a closed space that is safe.”

And Gabriella Torres, 21, is constantly on a swivel, “always scanning my perimeter to see who’s around and to see, should I need help, who can be there.”

These women, all interns at Chicago advertising agency Cramer-Krasselt, know all too well the struggles of finessing safety while navigating the dark as women. They knew they weren’t alone and wanted to have a bigger conversation.

On Monday, in partnership with aSweatLife, a Chicago wellness publication, the intern group will host a run and walk event at The 606 called #DespitetheDark. Their aim is to empower women about safety at night, specifically when running, and to involve men in the conversation.

The run will be an “informal meetup” where the interns will introduce the campaign, and those attending will do a warmup led by Jeana Anderson Cohen, CEO and founder of aSweatLife and then be released to run.

While the idea for the event was birthed after the interns were tasked to “make friends for something they believe in” for their summer project, the topic is evergreen.

In April 2017, during an evening run in Chicago, a female jogger was grabbed by the knees, pulled off the Lakefront Trail and sexually accosted. Later the same month, a man in DuPage County was charged with aggravated battery after he sneaked behind a woman on the Illinois Prairie Path and bear hugged her.

According to a 2016 survey from Runner’s World, which gathered responses from over 2,500 women and 2,100 men, 43 percent of women sometimes experience harassment on runs, compared with 4 percent of men.

“There’s a very tangible feel that a lot of people go through this,” said Colonna. “A lot of the men here (at Cramer-Krasselt) didn’t even know what we were talking about at first, either. We were like, ‘Oh, we hit on something good if all the women know and none of the men do.’”

The group performed a “stunt” July 16 and were able to get men introduced to the topic that way. The interns arrived at The 606 early in the morning and held up signs that said things like, “For women, there are no public parks at night,” and other thought-provoking statements.

“Even though those aren’t literal facts, they’re something that are generally accepted,” said Torres. “That was kind of our communication method for men to be like, ‘Oh I actually didn’t think about it that way.’”

“We were shocked by how many men approached us and wanted to learn more about our campaign,” added Kerr. “We’re hoping that through this event, (men) will kind of take more of a role in helping women feel safe at night, whether that be joining them in their community runs or just being aware of what’s going on around them.”

Colonna noted the importance of bringing men into the conversation yet fiercely reiterated that “we’re building this community for ourselves.”

The group has called the campaign “super empowering,” and credits some of that to its partnership with aSweatLife, which Kerr says was “the perfect partner.”

“(At aSweatLife), we want to support women, wherever they are in their careers — especially young, bright women with big ideas — to do the things they want to do to change the world,” said Anderson Cohen. “What I found so powerful is that this group of women was able to visualize it, say what they wanted to change about the world and then take an action. It’s something so small as just visually seeing women empowered to run at night, but even something like that can make a difference.”

When the group’s internship comes to a close, the interns hope to see the campaign live on with aSweatLife’s help.

“I think this is something that has legs nationwide,” said Anderson Cohen. “It’s a totally free event, and we can partner with other groups outside of Chicago to help facilitate it elsewhere. I know aSweatLife will be involved facilitating these monthly. We’re already looking to get national partners involved too.”

The #DespitetheDark run will take place at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Damen entrance of The 606 trail.