Local movement ‘I Will Run Free’ promotes public safety, awareness

Published 9:18 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

DOWAGIAC — The current sociopolitical climate appears to be one of significant change for many people groups. One movement is notably that of not only women’s rights, but of women’s safety.

#MeToo has broadened the scope of awareness for victims of assault, especially for women. Such movements are not just internet sensations with no real local impact.

For people like Kacey Williams, the times and newer movements have empowered her to create local change in her community.

“I Will Run Free” is a Dowagiac and Sister Lakes-based project started by Williams, an avid runner who simply wants to feel safe when she is running to exercise her body and to clear her head. For Williams, the self-discipline and escape of running have been plagued at times by a pervasive feeling of insecurity.

More than once Williams has been out for an evening run when she felt drivers — by were stalking her. In one scenario, a man continued driving by and staring at her to the point that she hid in a cornfield and called her father-in-law for assistance. In another situation, she was nearly hit by a man in a car who had similarly stared at her as she tried to enjoy an evening jog. Williams decided she had enough.

“I’ve had instances that left me with some overwhelming fear,” Williams said. “I didn’t like living with the fear.”

Several family members and friends had warned her not to run alone. Although she heard them and other warnings of the kind, as well as stories about women being abducted and assaulted while out for runs, Williams was tired of the tropes and lines like, ‘It’s just the way it is.’

“I got to a point where I was like, ‘It’s not an acceptable answer anymore,’” Williams said.

I Will Run Free is Williams response to her experiences and the tired excuses for why women cannot feel safe by themselves. She wants to use her project to offer self-defense courses and situational awareness trainings and to promote and advocate for community safety for women and children. Williams has been working with local organizations like police departments, townships and Revolution Fitness Center to gain support and programming help. Williams is in the process of getting I Will Run Free a 501c3 status and hopes her nonprofit can offer classes and courses for free.

Although Williams is working to make her project a resource for practical help and change, she believes the most critical step was creating a conversation.

“One of the things I failed to do was I didn’t say anything. I think it’s super important to say something because you can save a life,” she said.

While she spoke about her troubling running experiences with close friends and family, Williams did not take her stories to authorities. For her, beginning a community conversation about women’s safety is not only about creating group discussions and projects, but it’s as simple as speaking out about specific situations as they arise.

With the community conversation started, however, Williams wants to create clarity for the goals of I Will Run Free.

“Our organization is not just about runners,” she said. “One of the other things [we are] working on is children. Women aren’t only victims of assault.”

I Will Run Free is, for Williams, an effort to combat assault for all people in all spaces. She hopes the trainings and courses will be beneficial to young women going to college campuses, children at play and in public spaces and for anyone who is alone and potentially vulnerable.

“We should all be able to do these things freely without fear,” Williams said. “If we stand up and say, ‘I’m not accepting this anymore,’ predators will feel less empowered to prey on weak.”

On Saturday, June 8, I Will Run Free is hosting a community 5K and 10k fundraising event in Dowagiac. For more information on the June event and the non-profit organization, readers can visit iwillrunfree.org, or the I Will Run Free Facebook page.